Tributes after charity worker drowns

THE family of a Suffolk charity worker who drowned in a freak accident while on a goodwill mission in Sierra Leone paid a moving tribute to her last night .

THE family of a Suffolk charity worker who drowned in a freak accident while on a goodwill mission in Sierra Leone paid a moving tribute to her last night .

Grandmother Ruth Brook, from Great Barton, and fellow volunteer Keith Thompson, from Cornwall, died when the pair got caught in a riptide as they swam off the coast of Sierra Leone.

It is believed Mr Thompson went back to save the 64-year-old as she struggled in the water but both died before medical staff could arrive at the scene.

Married Mrs Brook, a devout Christian, had visited the African country at the start of this month as a volunteer worker for charities Mercy Ships and Mission Challenge. One of their projects was to convert a First World War barracks to a home for old people.


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Last night, a statement from her family said they would miss her "more than can be expressed".

They said: "We are so glad that she died doing what she loved to do – serving others; we are confident that she is now in Heaven with the Jesus she knew and loved so faithfully."

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They revealed she had phoned her husband Richard since she had been away and sent an upbeat letter in which she explained how much she was enjoying the work.

In it, she wrote: "We seem to be doing something so worthwhile here and our efforts are clearly so much appreciated - we feel very humble to be able to do a little to improve and brighten up people's lives.

"And see peoples faces come alive and brighten up with contact with us with the little we do to help, so instead of the hopeless look on their faces and in their eyes, there is a brightness – life and smiles. Thrilling to see the change."

The family's statement said: "Her tone was of joy and elation. She was able to give so much of herself to those in such poverty and need."

She had been married for 41 years and had four grown up children.

Mrs Brook was also parish council vice-chairman and a former school dinner lady in her home village of Great Barton.

Her son-in-law Nigel Hyde, who is also director of Mission Challenge, said: "She gave a lot of her life to helping other people through difficult times. Ruth, both spiritually and practically, made a difference to so many people's lives.

"She was loved and really cared for by the whole village community.

"The family is obviously devastated and it is hard to come to terms with what has happened. But there is a sense of joy and peace as to where Ruth has gone."

The terrifying moments leading up to Mrs Brook's death have also become clearer. The charity workers were relaxing on the picturesque Bureh Town beach, near the capital of Freetown, after helping to build a new home for elderly people – who had previously been living in bullet-ridden huts with no running water or toilets.

Mr Hyde said: "If you described or imagined the most beautiful tropical beach in the world, this was it. Ruth and Keith went out and had a lovely time.

"They then enjoyed a fish barbecue cooked by local villagers before having one final swim before leaving."

The pair became caught in a riptide. Mr Thompson managed to swim back to shore but returned to the water when he realised Mrs Brook was in trouble.

Despite the efforts of someone else to save the pair, they both died.

"Ruth had such a profound time in Africa, she decided she was really needed for another ten days and that God was calling on her to stay on," Mr Hyde added.

"For the last few years, Ruth has been to places all over the world. She was manager of a missionary camp in Cyprus and she also went with Mercy Ships to the Gambia.

"After her death, the local villagers were just wonderful. They brought some material to wrap the bodies in and even broke down a front door to act as a stretcher. There is a real sense of sadness for the whole community in Freetown."

A Sunday service at Great Barton Free Church – at which Mrs Brook and her husband Richard were congregation members – was filled with "devastation and grief", according to her son-in-law.

Mrs Brook was also vice-chairman for Great Barton Parish Council where colleagues have paid a warm tribute.

Chairman Derek Firth said: "Ruth served on the parish council for a number of years and she was an integral member.

"She was very reliable and dependable and her death is a sad loss to both the council and the village as a whole."

n Mrs Brook's funeral will be at St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds on Friday April 2, at 2pm followed by a family cremation. All friends are welcome to St Mary's Church and to join the family afterwards for refreshments at Great Barton Free Church.

Any donations are asked to be made to Armstrongs Funeral Directors, 43 St Andrews Street North, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 1TH, and will be divided between "Care for the Family" and "Mercy Ships".

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