May 17, 2022 | By Suzanne Hart

Event organiser Suzanne Hart pens a tribute to Toby Travanner, who passed away on May 7. Toby was an MC, training facilitator and keynote speaker known and loved by many in the events industry and beyond.

There will be a farewell event for Toby in Melbourne on Friday May 27 from 3pm – 7pm at the Hotel Esplanade in St Kilda. Those who would like to attend can RSVP here.

Just over a week ago I received a message – it’s Toby…

Toby passed away in surgery on Saturday evening, May 7.  A second major operation in the space of a month to fix an aortic dissection. ‘Google it if you want,’ he’d said to me in a message I’d received less than two weeks earlier. Turns out that was about as bad as it could be – cardiovascularly speaking.

We’d had a long call just before I left Perth to return to Bali. He had complained of back pain, an ongoing issue that he hoped would be sorted when he went to the specialist a few days later. We talked about a lot more of course – when we’d catch up next in Bali, hopefully a trip later in the year.  Life…just the normal stuff.

He had told me in that message when he’d left hospital that he had ‘a long recovery ahead but happy to be alive – literally’. He’d written, ‘I didn’t want to concern you while you were moving’.  So like Toby, as I rolled my eyes in frustration and promptly gave him a telling off.

There were no markers, no pre-existing condition that may have hinted at the seriousness of his condition. In our chats I could sense he was a changed man. I was so grateful he’d made it through and looked forward to updates when he felt stronger. Unfortunately, he wasn’t to live to act on those life changes he had resolved to put in place.

I’d moved back to Bali and hadn’t heard more, until I woke on Sunday morning to that message, sent from a friend of both of ours. I was shocked and devastated. I had lost one of my oldest and dearest friends. How could this be?

Toby and I met in Perth when we were both 18/19 years old. He taught me how to walk on a catwalk when I first entered the modelling world, how to use a computer in my brief stint with him at IBM, and he decided I could be a very good trainer and presenter – and he coached me to do just that.

We worked together over the years. I found my passion for conferences and events and I suggested he should do some MEA events. ‘You know Tobe…a little self promotion goes a long way! You’d do a great job at our industry events!’ The rest of that story is history. How we loved his ability to MC an awards night with some of the toughest audiences and the harshest critics. He was the master.

I was not alone in the way I felt on hearing Toby had passed. It has been extraordinary to see the social media posts, people who simply wanted to express their shock, grief and loss at his passing.

It’s so very obvious to me that it didn’t matter how long you had known Toby – he had a way about him that could make you feel that you were the most important person in the room. His energy was limitless; I could never match it when we worked together running conferences in the early 90s.

Suzanne with Toby in 2017

He was so annoying: always up way past the deadline we’d given onsite to the client, fixing PowerPoint presentations that were a mess, choosing the perfect playlists for background and walk-in music, putting photo compilations together for the closing message. Close enough was never good enough. It was frustrating to work with him, he was SO last minute, but his attention to detail and unfaltering approach to making it even better than it already was was his signature.

He had no respect for a client’s budget and his winning ways would always help them find the extra dollars for the bells and whistles.

He thrived on bringing people together – our small planning teams, the clients, whether you liked it or not, you’d be drawn into doing something you thought you’d never try (let’s all learn to juggle shall we?).  He was the big picture guy, so creative, all about the ‘what’ and never the ‘how’.  People like me had the great pleasure of trying to deliver all his incredible visions. Tough gig!

He was such a nerd, loved the technology, thrived on having the best gadgets – and all in the pursuit of achieving excellent client service delivery. If it was the newest and best stuff, he wanted it.  Such a geek.

I wouldn’t change a single day working with him and the amazing Verity Byth at Business Technology and Service Fundamentals in the early days in Melbourne (honestly Tobe…such a name! But let’s call it Brave Tiger Smells Flowers so our clients can remember it!). Then The Learning Company evolved and the wonderful people who helped shape that business saw him celebrate 30 years just a few months ago. A landmark indeed.

I’ve read the posts from people he trained, those who were at a conference he MC’d, who said they met him once, but have been forever left with the same sadness I feel that it’s just not fair. His time with us was way too short. I am so angry.

I am even crankier that he won’t get to see how many people want to share our final farewell event – and yes, we’ve deliberately called this an event and not a memorial. He would be so unimpressed with our unorginality if we’d gone with the standard, more formal approach.

We’re keeping it simple because above all else Toby was really just about the people. I’d love the biggest fireworks display over St Kilda Beach, a fabulous band playing all our favourite tunes we’d rock out to, just like we did every year on the dancefloor at MEA, and a parade of every one of the people whose lives he’s touched in some way – big or small.  And then, really, let’s just get everyone together at one of our favourite pubs in Toby’s ‘other’ hometown of Melbourne. ‘That’s perfect Suze’is what my friend would say.

Come one come all – a celebration is in order.

I miss my friend desperately. I am inconsolable but I’m getting on with all this because Toby would have wanted me to. He’d tell me there’s time for grieving later, I’d tell him that life is short. Let’s all live it just a bit more in his honour.

Toby would want us to celebrate, together, to share some laughs, but mostly to support each other through this tough time. He’d be humbled by how many people want to attend this gathering.  As are we.

RSVP for the event in Melbourne.