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Mother’s Day: Family of big-hearted Deborah Evans tell us why she is a mum in a million

10:00 30 March 2014

Nicki Crooks on her wedding day with mum Debbie.

Nicki Crooks on her wedding day with mum Debbie. 'We have so many good memories growing up: all the family holidays, birthdays... and our mum made them all so special. She is a one-in-a-million mum.'

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Steven Russell hears about one treasured mum who puts herself at the bottom of the priority list and why her family are so proud of her this Mother’s Day and every day

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Debbie Evans with son Craig.Debbie Evans with son Craig.

Virtually all children insist their mum is one in a million, but Nicki Crooks has no doubt hers is the real deal. Big-hearted Deborah Evans has always put a smile on the faces of her sons and daughters, and helped her family with life’s ups and downs. She’s cooked lovely birthday cakes, made all her brood feel special, and was even there in the delivery room when Nicki had her own children.

But there’s more – and it’s the reason why Nicki calls her “the best and strongest mum I’ve ever known”. For, about six months ago, Debbie’s oldest son died at the age of 32.

Gareth had cerebral palsy. Unable to walk or talk, he’d spent life in a wheelchair. Last year he developed pneumonia, was admitted to hospital on a Tuesday and died on the Saturday, says his sister.

Nicki says her Mum would have been devastated, yet her thoughts were, typically, for others. “She was so brave, losing her son. She sorted the funeral out; she did all the cards for the funeral; did the flowers – all the organisation. If people were upset, crying, she’d be straight over there to cuddle them.

Debbie Evans and son Chris.Debbie Evans and son Chris.

“She was just remarkable. We were shocked how strong she was. We were really proud.

“She has always put us first, before herself, and she is the best and strongest mum I’ve ever known.”

Next week would have been Gareth’s birthday. It will be sad, of course, but this close family has many happy memories to treasure. “We had a good few years, because we were told he wasn’t going to live beyond the age of three,” says Nicki.

She recalls, particularly, a glorious decade or so when the family headed for the Isle of Wight each summer and stayed in a cottage. They’d also rent a beach hut. “It was so peaceful. Gareth loved it there. He used to eat the sand! My mum used to sit him in a paddling pool on the beach to stop him!”

Debbie Evans with son Gareth, who died about six months ago.Debbie Evans with son Gareth, who died about six months ago.

Nicki adds: “My mum had to do everything for him: feed him, change him, bath him, shave him. I think she’s absolutely fantastic for what she did, all those years. She always put us first, and not herself. It’s remarkable how she managed it. She’s taught me how to be a parent. She was there all through the births of my five children” – in the delivery room, along with Nicki’s husband, Matthew. “She taught me how to cook. I’ve had struggles to deal with and she’s helped me through all that. We’ve got some close friends and they always call her Mummy Debs.”

Nicki says her other brothers, Christopher and Craig, were born when the family moved to Peterborough. Dad Steve, now a lorry driver, was with the RAF. “In the summer my mum would get up at the crack of dawn. She’d get the paddling pool out, all the picnic stuff out, and all the kids in the street would come round and play in our garden. My dad used to come home from work to 20 or 30 kids! She was so bubbly and fun. It’s what they loved.”

The clan has lived in Suffolk for about 17 years. Home is the Chantry area of Ipswich, with Nicki arranging a house-swap about three years ago so her family could move next-door to Debbie. “She loves seeing the grandchildren every day.” There are five, ranging in age from three years to 18.

Nicki laughs about how she and her brothers have teased their mum: about, for instance, her series of hair colours over the years. But it’s clear how much they love and cherish her. “We are very, very proud of her. We all love her so much. We are very lucky to have a mum with such a big heart.”

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