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Friends honour “brilliant” Oxford student who died on Varsity ski trip

Tributes pour in for Matt Smith who died in Val Thorens on Sunday

Friends and family have paid tribute to Oxford undergraduate Matt Smith who is believed to have died of a heart attack in Val Thorens on Sunday morning.

The third-year history student is understood to have suffered cardiac arrest after the first night of the Oxford and Cambridge universities’ ski trip to the Alps, which is attended by thousands of Oxbridge students.

Matt’s brother Harry Smith commented, “I don’t really know where to start when I begin to think about what kind of person Matt was. He was brilliant, charming and much more than a brother to me, he was a mentor and someone that I thrived to be like, whilst also being my best friend. Without him I wouldn’t be who I am today. He brought so much joy to my life and many others and the memories we all shared with him will stay with us forever.

“He really was such a promising talent with a very bright future ahead of him that was cut short way too soon. I’m glad that of all places, he passed in a place surrounded by what he loves the most with some of his closest friends around him, I just wish I could’ve been there with him. I loved him so much and I’m going to miss him more than words can describe.”

In a statement, Smith’s family said, “Matt was adventurous and imaginative in life, and kind, generous and loyal to his friends. Matt made friends everywhere, and seemed to capture the hearts of whomever he met. He intensely wished everyone to strive to achieve all they could; he felt anything was possible, and did not believe in regrets.

“Since his death, we have been astonished at the outpouring of love for Matt, and the many stories from friends who’ve told us how he influenced their lives for the better. It was amazing to hear about the sheer amount of joy he’d spread, even though we sometimes do not know whether to laugh or cry.

“Matt loved the mountains. He especially looked forward to the annual Varsity Trip. Even though he didn’t have the chance to start enjoying it this year, he would have wanted the party to carry on without him. He would have applauded the way his fellow snow-lovers took his snowboard for one last ride this week. The support from the Varsity Trip committee and the camaraderie among all the students has been wonderful to witness.

“We want to thank NUCO, the Varsity Trip operator, for all the help they gave Matt when he needed them, and their unfailing assistance for us once we arrived in resort. The local authorities here have been sensitive and helpful, for which we also thankful.”

Fellow students take Smith's snowboard "for one last ride" and leave it in the Alps.
Fellow students take Smith’s snowboard “for one last ride” and leave it in the Alps.

Smith’s friends from Bedford Modern School have also paid tribute to the talented student, who was secretary of Oxford University’s ski and snowboard club, as well as playing rugby for St John’s first XV and rowing in their first boat.

Eóin Barrett-Fulton, who knew Matt for 12 years, told Cherwell, “There is no way that I could possibly put into words how much Matt meant to me. Over the last 10 years he had helped me to become who I am today, always pushing me to be better than I was yesterday.

“He was our voice of reason when we needed it, and the exact opposite if we needed that as well, leading to some of the best memories anyone could hope to share with someone. There was never a dull moment with Matt, be it traveling the world, rowing the Thames, or just hanging out at his house and doing nothing, Matt was always there with a smile on his face and an idea of something fun to do to pass the time.

“He was the best of us, he was an ideal to strive towards, I will forever look up to him as one of the most intelligent and funny people I have ever met, and I will miss him more than he will ever know. I love you Matt. Rest in peace.”

James Rodgers, who attended the same school as Matt from the age of ten, said, “I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write something good enough to rightfully honour Matt or reflect upon the momentous influence he had on my life. I am truly inconsolable. He was the best of friends and it saddens me more than I can ever say that no matter how many good memories I have of him to cherish, we will never have the chance to make more.

“I want him to be remembered as the statuesque individual he was. In life his person and his achievements towered above everyone else. He achieved so much in such a short life yet remained endlessly humble. His charisma, and effervescent intelligence won him friends in all aspects of his life, and his loyalty to his friends meant they remained always by his side

“I could go on and talk at length, such was the brilliance of Matt’s character, but it can’t go without being said that he was an extremely remarkable person and I am honoured to have called him one of my closest friends for so long. He will be sorely missed.”

Similarly, tributes have poured in from Oxford students who knew the third-year history student.

Charles Styles, who studies Philosophy and Theology at St John’s, wrote for Cherwell, “Matt, So many stories, none of them appropriate. You were my very first friend at Oxford and I was fortunate enough to live next to you for two years. I feel so lucky to have got to know you as well as I did. No one has ever made me laugh like you were able to.

“You were always so cool, so sharp, and utterly outrageous. You managed to be refined and a mess at the same time. You were charismatic, athletic, perceptive, and endlessly mischievous. Your future was so bright. I’m going to miss so much. I’m going to miss seeing you dress smarter and smarter, the closer it got to laundry day. I’m going to miss watching you break into your own room because you forgot your keys. I’m going to miss telling you how terrible your tattoos were. Your hero Oscar Wilde wrote that “to live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist – that is all”. And despite being cut so painfully short, you truly lived, Matt. 30% yours, Charles.”

Luke Markham, who lived on the same staircase as Smith in first year, commented, “Smithers [Matt] didn’t do half measures. He wouldn’t come over for a chat, or a cup of tea. But when the fun started escalating, when the pressure was on, or when you really needed him the most. Smithers was there. Smithers was all-in.”

Christina Scottie St Claire, who also attended St John’s with Smith, said, “Matt was one of my most valued and extraordinary friends. He never stopped chasing adventures and new experiences and always included me in the ride. He’d go away somewhere and come back with hilarious stories of mishaps and unusual events that always ended in wonderful, envious, inspiring tales. He was thoughtful and had an attitude towards life that was founded on the idea that nothing really matters so you might as well do what you want. As we remember Matt, we’ve Never Felt Closer. ”

The state prosecutor in Albertville, Jean-Pascal Violet, said the authorities suspected Smith died from “heart failure linked to a combination of consuming alcohol and medicines”, but that they had no certainty that this was true.

However, Smith’s brother Harry criticised reports that he had been out partying before his death.

He told The Guardian, “Matt had definitely not gone out drinking or partying upon arrival in the resort. He went straight to his girlfriend’s hotel room, and so we believe it must have been an underlying health condition. It’s been upsetting how most articles have been focusing on details which aren’t even true.”

A spokesperson for Oxford University said, “We would like to express our deep sadness at the tragic death and send our condolences to his family and friends.

“While we await the findings of the official investigation we are offering support to students who may have been affected. Members of the college were invited to gather on Sunday to remember him, and any member of the college who is particularly affected by this sad news has been encouraged to contact the chaplain or any member of the welfare team.”

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