A GoFundMe appeal has been launched to support the family of Mark “Wags” Wagthorne, the much-loved beer world character who passed away from cancer at the age of just 44 last week. There is an initial fundraising target of $20,000, with all donations going to his wife Nicky and their three sons, Jasper, Leroy and Banjo, pictured above.
The appeal has been created by AJ Williams, who became one of Wags’ closest mates after being, for want of a better phrase, headhunted to join Moon Dog in 2019.
In setting up the GoFundMe, AJ points out that there were extended periods when Wags was in hospital away from family and friends due to receiving treatment through the pandemic. This included highly experimental treatment too: the most recent attempt to beat the cancer saw Wags enter a trial alongside little more than a dozen people globally.
“They were celebrating around the world at the success of this clinical trial,” AJ says. “He was 95 percent cancer free in January of this year. He was arranging a catch-up with the old Mountain Goat crew and was raring to go. People were coming down [to Melbourne] and had booked their tickets, then he just couldn’t go. It was heart-breaking.
“He was just a wonderful human to be around. To see the outpouring of love wasn’t a surprise. You’d drop into some random place and people would ask how Wags was going – he reached to the far corners of the industry.”
As we touched upon last week, Wags made a deep impression on many throughout the beer world and beyond. In that article, there was a Moon Dog-shaped hole as we didn’t speak to any of the colleagues where he spent the last years of his career until later on, but they’re in no doubt his legacy will be both immense and lasting.
“It’s hit a lot of people like a tonne of bricks,” Moon Dog co-founder Josh Uljans says. “He’s a very, very big figure for a lot of people in craft beer professionally. He had a huge impact on Moon Dog and Mountain Goat and with Temple over a long period of time.
“He was the first proper industry heavyweight to believe in Moon Dog enough to come and join us. We were a pretty fledgling brewery those days five years ago, so for me personally it was a really special thing to have someone of that calibre believe in us.
“He’s been central to everything we’ve achieved so far and it’s hard to see how his impact won’t be instrumental in propelling us further as well. The way he’s regarded by the sales team, customers, suppliers – everyone that he interacted with – he’s so respected, just an honest person and operator.”
AJ was one of those who worked most closely with Wags, after being offered a national sales role at Moon Dog. It was a position AJ says he didn’t believe he was ready for, claiming Wags could see things he couldn’t see in himself.
“He had an ability to stop time when he was around you,” AJ says. “He was always ten steps ahead.
“He’d march us up the hill, not being able to see what was over the other side. We would all be knackered because he would work us hard – he was the epitome of hard but fair – and when you got to the top you realised he’d already mapped out the rest of the course. As a leader, you just can’t teach that.
“As a mentor, he was, ‘Go for it, mate’, and you knew if you fell in the hole he would let you work your way back out. He’d grab you out, dust you down, and say, ‘Off you go!’
“He’d talk to you about how you were going to get out of a problem, would sit back and say, ‘Alright. Fuck it. Let’s do it. What have we got to lose?’ He knew when to hit the gas and not pump the brakes.
“When you were in his presence, there was never chaos or speed wobbles … there was always a feeling of calm. It was like he was swashbuckling the choppy seas ahead of us.”
Speak to those who knew him over the years and a picture that’s the epitome of work hard, play hard emerges.
“We’d have a big night out but he was always the first at his desk the next morning,” AJ recalls. “Just, ‘G’day, mate!’
"And you’d be like, ‘How did you get home? I thought I was in early!’.”
It’s an attitude he carried through his fight with cancer too. As Moon Dog CEO Maurice McGrath told me, even in his final weeks he would still join team meetings online.
“He gave his all and treated people with respect,” Josh says of a mate who became a role model to many at Moon Dog. “He was a hard operator, which you have to be in that type of senior role, but he just did it the right way.
“It’s not an easy line of business to be universally respected in – it can be pretty cutthroat and pretty hard and burns a few people out – but universally he’s so highly regarded. And that says a lot about him.
“He led by example and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to show the way. There’s not many people out there like that.”
Those I spoke to last week talked about Wags’ adoration for his family, and it’s something his Moon Dog colleagues refer to as well, from the days he’d close his laptop at 4pm and announce he was off for his kids’ sport – “You’ve got this, right?” – to shared camping trips or regaling the team with his sons’ latest successes.
“He was so proud of them,” Josh says, “and seemed to have a really good balance in his life.”
As well as setting up the GoFundMe in support of the family, AJ arranged another tribute once it became apparent Wags was in his final days. Inspired by a scene at the end of the Jim Stynes documentary, Every Heart Beats True, he arranged for members of the Moon Dog team to record video messages for him.
“He’d been told he had weeks to months to live, but by Monday last week it had changed to just days or weeks. I said, ‘Instead of sending him good wishes, send him a video message with a gratitude piece in there, a memory you might have shared with him, just to fill his heart’.”
While the intention was to send Wags off with a head and heart filled with fond memories, AJ says he plans to keep Wags along for his own journey too: “There is still so much to do that he would have wanted to see out. What he has built here, as far as the sales team, is about to enter the stratosphere with what we are doing at Moon Dog."
“I’ll always have his voice,” he adds of one of the most distinctive – and mischievous – voices in the industry. “I look ahead and see all these holes where he would have interjected but I’ve got his voice saying, ‘Go on, mate. What are you going to do now?’
“I feel this absolute sense of strength knowing he’s still in my corner.”
At time of publication, the GoFundMe had already surpassed the $10,000 mark. You can donate here.