The coronavirus victims of Sheffield- their incredible stories as city marks 1,000 deaths
Today, Sheffield marks the devastating milestone of 1,000 deaths of its people from Covid-19.
Government figures confirmed that of this afternoon (Thursday, February 4 2021) more than 1,000 people have died in their care after testing positive for this cruel disease.
1,000 lives is a lot to comprehend- but these people weren’t just numbers or a statistic.
They were born and bred here, or made Sheffield their home later in life. They had aspirations, dreams and hopes.
They were friends, colleagues, parents, aunties, uncles, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, grandparents and great-grandparents who each left a mark on our city in their own individual way.
Here we take a moment to remember some of the Sheffielders we’ve lost to coronavirus and honour their lives cut short. We will never forget them.
LEONARD GIBSON- ‘A jolly Irish man who made everyone smile’
Leonard, a granddad-of-four from Oughtibridge, is thought to have been the first Sheffield resident to die from the virus on March 17 2020. In the wake of his death, his heartbroken family warned others to take the illness more seriously. Leonard, who had 12 siblings, was born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and came to South Yorkshire to work when he was 26. He spent a number of years at Orgreave coking plant and brought up his family in Woodhouse, Sheffield. He returned to Ireland when his marriage ended but moved back to Sheffield two years ago to be closer to his daughters. Daughter Lisa, from Catcliffe, descried her dad as ‘kind, loving, generous, crazy and fun loving’. She said he would be remembered by his friends and all those at his sheltered housing complex as ‘a jolly Irish man who made everyone smile’.
PAT MIDGLEY- ‘She made anyone and everyone feel immediately welcome and loved’
Pat, who had been a Labour councillor since 1987, was understood to have been the UK’s first serving politician to die with the virus. Daughter Joanna Midgley paid tribute to the ‘true woman of steel’. She said: "She was and always will be my hero. A wonderful caring, selfless and generous person with an ability to make anyone and everyone feel immediately welcome and loved (usually with endless cups of tea, cakes, scones and sandwiches)! She was committed and devoted to her family and friends and always tried to keep people together and connected.” Pat had a lifelong passion for improving education and was a school governor for more than 50 years. A former Lord Mayor, she also served as a magistrate. In 2019, she won a Woman of Sheffield award hosted by The Star.
JOAN HIGHAM- ‘She enjoyed a good life and certainly lived it to the full’
Joan Higham passed away at Chesterfield Royal Hospital in April 2020 after testing positive for Covid-19. She was 95. The former seamstress lived in Sheffield for most of her life before moving to Chesterfield around 10 years ago. Her granddaughter Deborah Dixon said: “My grandmother will be very sadly missed by her family and friends. She enjoyed a good life – she certainly lived it to the full. She also worked very hard throughout her life – she was a seamstress and made outfits for service personnel during the war and she also had many delivery jobs. My grandmother was a strong woman who loved her family and her dog Lilly.”
MARIA CASSIDY- ‘My mum's name was Maria- she wasn’t just a number or a statistic of Covid-19’
Retired nurse Maria Cassidy, aged 68, passed away with coronavirus in April 2020. The mum-of-three, who also had three grandchildren, was one of hundreds of hospital patients to die across the UK on the same day, but her daughter Liisa, from Firth Park, said: “My mum's name was Maria. She wasn't just a number or a statistic of Covid-19. She was a very much loved and treasured mum, grandma, mum-in-law, sister, auntie and friend.” Liisa said her mum, who lived at the Roman Ridge sheltered accommodation complex in Wincobank, had retired from nursing due to ill health and was upset that she was not well enough to help in the fight against coronavirus. “There's nothing she would have wanted more than to be there helping,” she said. "Nursing was her vocation, she absolutely loved it. She wanted to help people.”
ROY SHELTON- ‘He was a brilliant man who didn’t have a bad bone in his body’
Roy Shelton, from Heeley, died of coronavirus aged 60. His daughter Marianne said: “He was an awesome dad and a brilliant man who didn’t have a bad bone in his body. He was kind to everybody and enjoyed life to the full, and we all miss him so much." The 60-year-old Sheffield United fan had worked as a carer for the best part of a decade and Marianne believes he contracted the virus at work. The grandfather-of-one, who had three children with his late wife June, was due to marry Annette Wild, with whom his family said he was looking forward to starting a new life up in Gargrave, North Yorkshire.
RAY LEVER- ‘Nothing was ever too much trouble if it meant he was helping someone else’
Raym who was a domestic services assistant at Northern General Hospital, died aged 62 in May 2020. His family described him as the 'perfect dad and grandad' while Sheffield Teaching Hospital's chief executive Kirsten Major said he was 'a credit to the NHS'. A father-of-three and a grandfather, he was well known among colleagues at the hospital for his ‘cheery manner’ and worked in patient areas before being transferred to non-patient areas early on in the Covid-19 outbreak. Ray’s daughters Rachel, Kathryn, and Rebecca said: “Dad was the perfect dad and grandad and nothing was ever too much trouble for him if it meant helping someone else. He was always cheerful and loved a laugh and joke. Our world will never be the same but we are so grateful for the unbelievable care he received from the teams at Sheffield Hospitals for his current illness and on previous occasions.”
HAJI TANVEER HUSSAIN- ‘He never had a bad word to say about anything or anyone’
Taxi driver Haji, from Rotherham, died in October 2020. Fellow taxi driver Nasar Raoof paid tribute to Mr Hussain, who he said had worked for Gold Star Taxis in Rotherham town centre and been a hugely popular character. He said: "He was one of the humblest people you could ever hope to meet and he never had a bad word to say about anyone or anything. He was an amazing driver and an amazing man, who was known by everyone. The huge number of messages on social media following his death show just how popular he was.”
DAVID STREETS- ‘He wasn’t a man that drifted through his 83 years but on the go and full of energy’
David, of Bents Green, passed away in June 2020 at Northern General Hospital at the age of 83 after being diagnosed with coronavirus. David's interest in epilepsy began when his otherwise healthy nineteen-year-old son had his first seizure. This gave him first-hand experience of the fears and concerns of parents of children with epilepsy and a desire to find out more about the condition. He helped set up the Sheffield branch of the British Epilepsy Association - now Epilepsy Action - in 1989, serving a variety of roles for the charity at both at local and national level. Friend and colleague Duncan Froggatt, the current chair of Epilepsy Action in Sheffield, said: “He touched countless lives in the city and helped hundreds of people understand how to live with the condition and get the best treatment possible. David wasn’t a man that drifted through his 83 years. He was on the go and full of energy. He lived life to the full and the imprint of his touch on the world will stay with us all as his legacy.”
ALAN ‘GRIFF’ GRIFFITHS- ‘He was the light of our family and we miss him so terribly’
Alan lost his battle with COVID-19 in April 2020 at the age of 69. In the weeks beforehand, granddaughter Anna was featured in the Star and later went viral for her efforts in getting famous sporting legends to send her grandad a video message. Alan received videos from Jermaine Defoe, Micheal Vaughan, Terry Curran, Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson along with players past and present from Alan’s beloved Sheffield Wednesday. Anna said: “In total I had between 30-40 videos, messages and pictures from these sporting legends. The reason I wanted to do that is because my grandad followed football all his life. He never missed a home or away match and travelled all over the country following Wednesday. As we lost him during the lockdown, we were only allowed up to 24 people in the crematorium. But hundreds of people lined the street of our village in Killamarsh to pay their respects to my grandad who was definitely a beloved man. We now have a beautiful addition in the family who has taken his name, she’s called Alanah, after my grandad. My grandad loved every single one of his three children and his 12 grandchildren along with hist three great grandchildren. He was the light of our family, we miss him so terribly.”
JOSIE HALL- ‘She was adored and irreplaceable- my heart is broken’
Josie Hall passed away in October after testing positive for Covid. Daughter Lisa paid tribute to her: “She had no real underlying health issues save for arthritis and had shielded from March as had been advised. She suddenly felt ill, not experiencing any of the three symptoms that we were told to look out for, which eventually led to her being admitted to hospital and sadly she passed away two days later. I still can’t believe or accept it now. The cruelty of her having been taken from us, not being able to see her to say goodbye, will stay with me and haunt me forever. Mum was simply the best. She was kind, was generous to a fault, my best friend. She always knew what to do, had solid advice and always had my back, as I did her. She was honest and fair. She was funny and had an infectious laugh I’ll never forget. It frustrates me when people don’t believe or mock the severity of the virus. It is very real, I can assure you.”
CHRISTINE BIGGS- ‘A true woman of steel- a beautiful person who made the world a better place’
Christine passed away with Covid-19 on November 8. Born and bred in Sheffield, her son described her as ‘a true woman of steel, a beautiful woman and a beautiful person who made the world a better place.” Paul said that while sorting through her stuff a few days after Christine passed away, he found a letter addressed to him and his brother Neil, which read: “You cannot see or touch me but i’m standing next to you. Your tears can only hurt me, your sadness only makes me blue. Be brave and show a smiling face. Let not your grief show through. I love you from a different place, Yet I’m standing next to you. Be strong my beautiful boys.”
GEORGE SAUNDERS- 'A Yorkshire man through and through’
Grandson David Hague said: “Grandad passed away on the April 25 2020, aged 81, from Covid. His birthday was April 17, he had underlineding health issues. He taught me a lot in my life and he was more of a father to me. He started his working life in the steel industry and was a Sheffield United fan all his life. You could say he was a Yorkshire man through and through.”
JUNE ROSE HESSEY- ‘My beautiful nan’
June was born in June 1935 and sadly passed away after a battle with coronavirus in April 2020. Granddaughter Shelley Weldon said: “She was much loved and much missed. My beautiful nan.”
VICKY EDWARDS- ‘We don't understand how or why this happened- we are completely heartbroken’
Vicky passed away in November 2020 age 55 from Covid Pneumonia. She was previously active, healthy, and had no underlying health conditions, working as a domestic staff member in a Rotherham care home. Daughter Rachael said: “She was a loving wife of 36 years, mum of five, nannan of five, a sister, an auntie and a friend to many. Prior to Covid, she enjoyed holidays in Spain and trips to her caravan on the east coast, exploring England with city stays and beach visits, walking in the local countryside, and simply being with her family. She was looking forward to this being over so that we could all be together again. She was very aware of how deadly the virus was, and followed all the rules and restrictions, and was extremely careful with sanitation. She managed her symptoms at home for a while until she was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties and low oxygen levels on November 3, where her condition would stabilise one day and look promising, to then taking a turn the next. She spent 21 days in total in Rotherham General Hospital where the staff were amazing and did all they possibly could. We had limited phone contact during this time which was extremely difficult on us all. Mum was placed on a ventilator nine before her passing, and passed away with family by her side in full PPE. We don’t understand how or why this happened. We are completely heartbroken. This really can happen to anyone.”
JOAN AND PETER BARNES- ‘One without the other just would not have worked’
Joan and Peter passed away within a week of each other in December last year. At their joint funeral, it was said that ‘one without the other just would not have worked’. The inseperable couple had celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary just weeks before they were both admitted to hospital. The couple met in their 20s when they both worked at an opticians in Sheffield and were well known for their work in amateur theatre across the city. Joan, known for her ‘immaculate’ appearance, also worked on the Elizabeth Arden counter in Walsh’s for 30 years.
In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.