Children of cancer victim Gary Keeys, 44, to have dream holiday after fundraising efforts

Gary Keeys with his children Gretta, Ella and Reuben

Gary Keeys with his children Gretta, Ella and Reuben - Credit: Archant

Three children are set to go on a dream safari holiday after a fundraising campaign held in honour of their father.

(L-R) Jack Wainwright, Katie Berry, Natalie Wainwright, Marcus Poston and Kevin Smith.

(L-R) Jack Wainwright, Katie Berry, Natalie Wainwright, Marcus Poston and Kevin Smith. - Credit: Archant

Gary Keeys, 44, died on March 16 after being diagnosed just before Christmas with lung and liver cancer.

The Walton father-of-three regularly took his children Gretta, 14, Ella, 11, and Reuben, nine, for swimming lessons at Frinton and Walton Swimming Pool, making friends with staff and other swimmers.

When they heard about the diagnosis a group got together in a bid to raise money to send Gary, a learning support assistant at Tendring Technology College, and his children on a dream holiday – but sadly Gary, an active member of the Frinton Free Church, died before they could realise their ambition.

Natalie Wainwright, a family friend and a duty officer at the Tendring District Council-run pool, set up a long-distance triathlon challenge involving a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run over three days at the end of March.

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Together with raffles, cake sales and an auction, the group has raised around £4,500 which will be added to funds generated by other friends and family.

Mrs Wainwright said: “It was an emotional time for all those who took part and Gary’s mum, dad, brother and sister-in-law were all there to cheer us on.

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“We had been hoping to raise money for Gary and his children to go away together but that couldn’t happen. The children have decided they now want to go on safari with their uncle and aunt later this year.”

Those from the pool who entered the Gary Keeys Challenge were Mrs Wainwright, leisure attendant Katie Berry, duty officer Marcus Poston and customers Jack Wainwright and Kevin Smith.

They were joined on the swim by swimming teachers Rebecca Peters, and Jo Wilderspin-Webb, and leisure attendants Paige Hamilton and James Whitfield.

Cliff Keeys, Gary’s father, said: “It is amazing the money they have raised.

“It is not the hard currency, it is what it reflects – that people care enough.

“That really impressed Gary when he was in hospital. He could not believe so many people thought that much of him.

“The irony was he never smoked a cigarette in his life. When he was a lorry driver he was well known for being a non-smoker and non-drinker, and they always said to him ‘when you go can I have your lungs and liver because they are hardly used’.

“The children are very philosophical about it, but they have a good support network. When Gary was diagnosed he spoke to the children and said ‘Don’t forget me but don’t spend the rest of your life mourning me’.

“At 44 to be told you’re not going to be 45 – he was very positive.

“When we had the thanksgiving service the phrase that kept coming up was Gary was an excellent dad, a great dad.”

Gary was a devoted Sunderland fan, and the club has also given the family tickets to its match against Southampton including a tour of the stadium.

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