A story of friendship, family, survival and two old guys who decided to put on a show.
Meet William McGechie aka Willy de Wit (56 years) and David Downs (48). Long-time friends and former entertainers with a string of kiwi comedies between them.
In real life there’s been nothing to laugh about lately for these two – Willy hit the mid-life trifecta, surviving a marriage breakdown, redundancy, and a near-fatal stroke. David was fortunate to only have a ‘mild touch of cancer’.
Since they met in the late 80s their friendship has been solid and enduring — but their friendship has strengthened while they’ve supported each other through fatal illnesses, and the mental health challenges faced as part of their journey.
We asked Willy and David a few questions;
You are working with the wonderful team at Attitude TV, tell us why you chose them to share your story?
The team at Attitude have made wonderful programs on many issues, telling the stories of people facing hardships. They had a great reputation for telling stories with empathy and understanding, and we also felt it was important to share our stories in the hope that it might help others. Also Willy is on the lookout for a girlfriend and thought this might help. Ladies?
Why do you think that mental health issues, particularly for middle-aged men in New Zealand, is on the rise?
In part, perhaps it’s because people are now open and able to talk about it. Over the past few years, its been great to see that talking about how you feel has become more normalised in society. People like Sir John Kirwan, and our mate Mike King have led the charge on this, and – slowly – society is catching up.
Also though, its clear the pressures of the modern world are real. Some people are really struggling, and others are facing pressure to ‘be successful’, with things like social media having a part to play in that.
Finally – its good to hear we are both ‘middle aged’. That means we still have quite a few years left, which is great, because it was only 2 years ago we were both told we had a very limited life expectancy. It’s a question of perspective – some people might hear that they are middle aged and feel sad; we both feel very grateful and look forward to wearing the cardigans, complaining about how music these days is not as good as it used to be, and saying ‘in my day’ to annoy our kids.
Any advice you can give to sufferers of mental illness?
Please understand that it’s not a weakness but a strength to ask for help. Talk with others, explain how you are feeling. Understand that your perception is not always the reality for others. Communicate.
On the flip side, what advice would you give to the loved ones of sufferers who are trying to help?
Patience and understanding. Don’t rush people, and don’t expect them to heal miraculously, or ‘cheer up’. We’re not the experts in this, and there is plenty of great help out there, so please use the services of the experts.
What has been your biggest learning from this experience?
We’ve both had extreme health issues, and come close to death, so have experienced some of the worst situations people face. But we’re also very fortunate to have the support of friends and family. We both know that without that help, we might not have made it. So – corny as it might sound – our advice is to cherish and nurture the relationships you have with others. Forgive the minor transgressions, get over the petty stuff. See the good in others.
Willy, can you describe your friendship with David in one sentence…
Actually, since I had a stroke, I have no memory of him, but he continues to hang around so I be nice to him. Mostly. Has anyone seen my car keys?
David, can you describe your friendship with Willy in one sentence…
Being friends with Willy is like sitting on a toilet, hitting a button and finding out it’s actually a bidet – surprising, warm, and a bit tingly (in a good way). Also, he’d be a great boyfriend (he wanted me to say that… ladies?)
It’s clear that laughter truly is the best medicine for you both, can you give us your best jokes?
Willy: I’m not sure I have a joke, but when I had my stroke, people told me I would be ‘all right’. The joke there is that I am left-handed and have now had to re-learn to write with my right hand.
David: My favourite black humour gag is about my uncle, who is Irish. He went to see the doctor who told him he had bad news and worse news. Firstly, he had terminal cancer and only a day to live. “How can there be worse news?”, asked my uncle. “I should have mentioned it yesterday”, says the doctor.
But laughter is the best medicine. Unless you have cancer, then it’s immunotherapy.
You can watch Willy & David’s full documentary on Attitude here.