Steve Onyett 1961-2015

steveonyettIt was with great shock and sadness that I learned yesterday of the death of my dear friend and colleague Steve Onyett.  Steve was on a charity cycling ride in Palestine when he suffered a fatal heart attack.  He was just 54 years old.

I first met Steve at the second SOLWorld conference in Bristol in 2003.  Steve was interested in SF for both clinical and organisational use, and lived in Bristol, so it was natural that he came.  However, the conference dinner on the Friday night was also Valentine’s Day, and he had at that time a routine of going out for dinner with two (female) friends to celebrate their single-ness.  So, he brought the friends along too!  The following day, the Saturday, Steve left the conference to join with a million others in London for a Stop The War march against the proposed (and feared) invasion of Iraq.  This for me sums up Steve – he was committed to a better world, and if that meant political engagement sometime taking precedence over professional practice then so be it.  He was pursuing a similarly humanitarian mission when he died.

Steve went on to train with us in Solutions Focus, joined me in the SFWork team, worked closely with us in our work introducing SF coaching into the NHS in various ways.  He was a member of SFCT and came to our regular UK chapter meetings from time to time.  He also served on the Editorial Advisory Board of the SFCT journal InterAction, allowing us a share of his visiting professorships at the University of the West of England (UWE) and then Exeter.

During the years I was developing ideas around Host Leadership, Steve was a constant source of encouragement and critique.  He was instrumental in getting my first paper on the subject (Leader as Host; Host as Leader: Towards a new yet ancient metaphor) published in the International Journal for Leadership in Public Service in 2009 (he was one of the journal’s editors at the time).  He maintained his interest in developing the host leadership metaphors and ideas, and joined our small ‘inner circle’ of practitioners and developers last year – an involvement which continued until his death.  He wrote guest blogs about host leadership and solution focused coaching – see the links at the bottom of this piece.

We had occasional jousts about his fascination and engagement with things like the Way of Council and ‘shadow side’ facilitation (vital new development or old hippy nonsense?  It was he who proposed the latter term – we laughed.)  Steve became very involved in the Embercombe community, acting as a Trustee for their charity and being involved with programmes as well as helping to steward the organisation.  He loved being outdoors, and spoke to me of the inspiration he found in Embercombe’s Devon countryside setting.  It seems fitting somehow that he met his end in the open air, engaged in a cause in which he passionately believed.  He is a great loss to people in so many circles and contexts, and we will feel his presence still  in our continuing work.

Host Leadership and Solution Focused blogs by Steve:


18 thoughts on “Steve Onyett 1961-2015

  1. Ash

    I only met Steve at the SFCT chapter meeting earlier this year and we quickly connected. I was looking forward to getting to know him better in the coming years, and it is a real shame that his vigorous and engaged life was cut so short.

  2. Michael Bainbridge

    Thanks Mark for this warm appreciation of Steve- it captures his commitment to making the world a better place and to his sense of fun and playfulness. I was lucky enough to work with Steve in various different capacities over the years, and two things stand out for me. Firstly his absolute authenticity as a leader, and secondly his ability to translate difficult concepts into practical activities that anyone participating in his events could understand and apply. Difficult to accept that we will have to carry on the journey without him now.

  3. Kate Schneider

    I had the privilege of working with Steve over more than a decade, starting with Mental Health South West in 2001. Whilst I remain in awe of his knowledge and exceptional skills as a facilitator, academic, writer, coach, mentor, and leader it was his joyful pride in, and passionate commitment to his children that I admired and enjoyed most. It’s an immense loss.

    1. Jo Gajtkowska

      Isn’t it just Kate. So, so sad but his passion will live on in the lives of all those he touched. It would be nice for all the old SWDC colleagues to re-connect as a small memorial to the man we new and admired.

    2. Kieron Corrigan

      Hi Kate – yes a massive loss – the world immediately feels less safe and more limited. I last bumped into Steve in the summer, sitting on a wall outside the Winter Gardens in Weston super Mare, we were both in our lunch breaks from different conferences. Mine was about Open Dialogue, his I think about IAPT, he said he wished he was in mine. So did I.

  4. Gwyn

    Tricia Lustig introduced Steve and me. She does that a lot. As Tricia anticipated we hit it off immediately. He worked with us at ASP on leadership workshops enthusiastically sharing his insights and passions. Steve introduced me to Embercombe where we shared yurts, council meetings and some very noisy jamming sessions. At ASP he helped create The Forest Floor and its manifesto for life which guides many people everyday to a better life and a better world. We also shared bike rides and hikes across the brecons. What a wonderful companion and friend who always cast a light on your strengths and hold you to account for your failings, with compassion. Always encouraging you to be a better person.

    It seems he just kept giving and serving others to the very end. Namaste Steve.

  5. George Coxon

    I’m very saddened and shocked at this news. I hadn’t seen steve for some time sadly. But have a long history of work and friendship. We were both part of the Avon Health Authority mental health project team in the late 90s with Rhona MacDonald. We did lots of great things together. We also became good buddies. We ran together, plotted and schemed together, shared personal life stories/ events & tribulations He was a great guy. I am really upset about this. He shared a birthday with my eldest son Tom. -9th April. And I certainly do want to pay my heartfelt respects. It’s tragic and awful. One of the real good guys lost too soon. Much love to his family who will be so devastated. I’m sure they will be inundated with support. But if there is anything we can do in Devon just say the word please. George x

  6. Robyn Stratton-Berkessel

    Thank you, Mark for this lovely tribute to Steve. I met him in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2009 when we both attended the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference. There were a number of us from all over the world staying at a lodging, Kathmandu House and everyday we piled into a bus to drive through the excitement of Kathmandu streets to the Conference Center and back. We had many laughs amid the generative dialogue. He was so easy to connect with. His human impact lasts.

  7. David Shaked

    Thank you Mark for sharing the sad news. I first met Steve at the world AI conference in Kathmandu in 2009 and we stayed in touch since. He was very active in both the SF and AI communities and contributed to both – always with a smile and lightness about him.
    I am actually in Israel at the moment and it is sad to find out that he died so prematurely and so close. At least it happened while he was pursuing an important cause.
    I wish his partner and family strength and happier times.

  8. jennifer

    I too worked with Steve in Mental Health South West ( alongside Michael and Kate ) .Charismatic and always inspiring I have fond memories of supervision sessions in the Naffeterria on Gloucester Road over a coffee and a muffin ….coming from Social Services I thought supervision could only happen in an office ….Steve was a shining example of thinking outside of the box .What a loss.He will be sorely missed .

  9. Jo

    I’m just so sad to hear of the loss of this wonderful mind from the world. I thought I had all the time to talk to Steve after my coaching with him finished earlier this year and it is impossibly sad to learn that I haven’t. Thinking of his family at this time.

  10. Tricia Lustig

    I shall miss Steve so much! We never had a conversation that didn’t deepen my thinking… and we often laughed. I saw him last just a few months ago. He was such a warm, thoughtful, fun man. He was aligned and lived his purpose. He was passionate. He made a difference. He will be missed by many

  11. John Wells

    I first met Steve in 1994 when we both worked at King’s College London. We hit it off straight away and would often end up in the Wellington Pub in Waterloo putting the world to rights after work over a pint. When I, my wife Cathy and my family moved to Ireland Steve was the first of our UK friends to come over to visit us with his boys Isaac and Jacob. Steve was a great support and inspiration as I developed my career in Ireland. He was here last year and as always charmed everyone he met. It is not often one comes across a truly good person – he was one of those – a rare and very human man. Cathy and I will miss him terribly. Go well Steve

  12. Amy

    There is so much to say about Steve and yet I don’t want to water down the essence of this great man with too many words so I will just say he had the warmest of hearts, the sharpest of minds and the calmness of a sea.. I will miss his wisdom and passion on life and there is no doubt the world is just a little bit darker without him in it. Rip lovely Steve x

  13. Dr Olive McKeown

    I have known of Steve’s work for some decades and am familiar with his recent work as well as that published some time ago when he worked with the NHS. I always found his views inspiring and it was clear that Steve truly cared about people.

    More recently I connected with Steve on social media and followed his work and initiatives with keen interest. We discussed hosting some leadership workshops in London in 2016 but alas this was not meant to be. Steve’s work and the profound and meaningful way he touched so many people will continue to have influence, of that I am sure. So sad Steve is no longer with us but what an inspiration to have his work and his legacy.

  14. Mary Prendergast

    It is with deep saddness we heard of Steve passing. He was so committed to his work and to the world. I had the pleasure to meet him at a conference hosted by WIT. His eyes smiled like sparkles for his humanity. His advocacy for those in need remained a constant consciousness even to his passing. We had been planning his trip to Cashel to our conference in November 2015 now not to be. The universe our planet the young and the vulnerable for you have touched each one with a light and presence. Our sincere condolances to his friends and family.

  15. Mark Jukes

    Having not seen Steve since the late 90s / 2000’s I was deeply saddened to learn of Steve’s departing of this world. I first met Steve as he was completing his clinical psychology degree in Plymouth. I was Head of a children’s home for learning disabilities and Steve came to work in his vacation as a health care assistant . What an empathic and caring young man he was and a source of courageous inspiration in connecting with children with very specific needs. We became good friends and played squash and shared a few pints in the Dolphin on the Barbican and discussed community care as it applied to people with disabilities.This was the early 1980’s . We later met in Birmingham in the late 90’s when I invited him to talk to students of mental health on Teams from his book just published.My respect and admiration for Steve will always embrace those embryonic strides Steve was in the making from those early days.

Leave a Reply