Tragic charity chief was due third child

A CHARITY director from Colchester who died following a freak car accident was set to become a father for the third time next year, his devastated family have revealed.

Elliot Furniss

A CHARITY director from Colchester who died following a freak car accident was set to become a father for the third time next year, his devastated family have revealed.

René Vargas, 47, died on Tuesday, three days after suffering serious head injuries when a piece of metal debris smashed through his car windscreen as he drove along the A12 at Marks Tey.

Mr Vargas' family and his colleagues at Colchester-based international charity LEPRA have paid moving tributes to him.


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In a statement issued by his wife Katy yesterday, he was described as a “tender” husband who was set to become a father again in the spring.

“René was a serene and gentle man who touched everyone who met him,” she said.

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“He shunned the limelight and personal status, but was fiercely ambitious in his efforts to support the poorest people in improving their lives, constantly succeeding against the odds in finding new funding and new ways to expand his work.

“Everything he did came out of his desire to work for a more just world.”

She said the many overseas visits he had to make for his work meant he was often away from his family, which he found very hard.

Mrs Vargas said: “René was the most tender father and husband and devoted every possible moment to me and his precious sons, who were the light of his life.

“There are no words to express how we will miss him forever, but we know his love and beautiful smile will always shine in our hearts.”

Mr Vargas was born in Bolivia in the high Andes Mountains and trained as an economist before working for organisations such as HelpAge International, Action Aid and United Nations.

Most recently he was working as director of programmes, responsible for overseas work, at LEPRA Health in Action.

He met his wife, who grew up in Colchester, in 1986 when she travelled to Bolivia in her gap year. They were married in 1992 in Rome, where René had won a postgraduate scholarship.

The couple had two sons, Oliver, 13, and Gabriel, 10, and Mr Vargas was said to be “very excited” about the arrival of their third child.

He had just returned from a trip to Washington the day before the accident and colleagues have said he was still elated at the news that the United States Agency for International Development had chosen LEPRA as it's newest partner agency - which Mr Vargas himself had spent months working to achieve and one of the most significant partnerships in the organisation's long history.

Terry Vasey, LEPRA's chief executive, said Mr Vargas had the rare skill of making people feel at ease in any situation, be it at high government levels or in the most humble dwelling in a remote village.

He said: “René was not just respected but loved by us all, and the depth of sadness in our office can't be measured.

“Words of condolence and sadness have come in from around the world. He will be remembered with great fondness and gratitude for what he has achieved.

“Thanks to René our organisation has grown immeasurably as has the scope of the work that we do across the world. All our thoughts and prayers are with René's family at this difficult time.”

Police have been appealing for people who were on the London-bound A12 in the lead-up to the crash to come forward with any information that may help their investigation.

They have seized a truck as part of their ongoing investigation.

An Essex Police spokeswoman said the drivers of two distinctive vehicles had been urged to get in touch.

She said the drivers of a white minibus and a white mini, possibly a convertible, which both swerved to avoid the debris, could help the investigation.

The spokeswoman said: “These drivers are potential witnesses and can assist police to piece together the events that led to the crash.

“In addition, officers are keen to hear from anyone who was travelling along the A12 on the London-bound track at around 11.30am to 11.50am on Saturday who may have information that could assist their inquiries.”

Anyone with information can contact officers at the Stanway Road Policing Unit on 01206 762512.

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