Mary's very personal and colourful farewell for her beloved brother
When Mary Tomes lost her “big brother” Dave to cancer, there was only one fitting farewell which she could give him – in a very personal and beautifully designed Colourful Coffin.
As managing director of Oxford-based Colourful Coffins, Mary is well versed to helping grieving families design bespoke picture coffins for their loved ones.
This time though, it was personal, as not only had she grown up with her older brother to look after her but, as he battled cancer for the last four years of his life, she became his primary carer, nursing him at home and spending hours at his hospital bedside.
“Dave was always there for me, he was my only sibling and we were very close. His attitude was to live life to the full and he did so many wonderful things,” she said.
“Together, we had been through his funeral wishes so I knew what he wanted for the service, although when it came down to the finishing touches for his coffin he said he would leave it to me. I must have changed it about 10 times before I was completely happy with it.
“We chose some fabulous photographs and used pictures of personal things which meant a lot to us, including a three-wheeler Reliant Robin on one end. He used to have one and loved it so much, when I was following the coffin it kept making me smile and it was a reminder of all the good times, rather than the last few months when he was so ill.
“Although many families have told us how it helps them on the day to have such a personal tribute to their loved one, I understand that so much more now. I felt it was a real privilege to have done something so personal for him. I knew how much he would have loved the coffin, it really helped me on the day and gave me some very special memories.”
A world champion skydiver, in 1979 Dave set up the world record of 233 consecutive parachute jumps in 18hrs 7mins, a feat which earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records, and he was a well-known member of Hereford Parachute Club.
He also held British and European parachuting records and one of his most memorable jumps was when he was given special permission to parachute into the River Thames beside the Houses of Parliament, raising around £1 million for Age Concern.
Through other fundraising events, he went on to raise a further £98,000 to buy the first breast cancer screening unit for Cheltenham Hospital, as he lived in the town at the time.
“It was typical of Dave to want to help others and he took so much enjoyment from doing so,” added Mary. “He was very courageous and had a real fighting spirit, which he displayed right through to the end.
“He was very proud of what we had achieved with Colourful Coffins and took a real interest in the business. Every day when I saw him, the first thing he would ask about was the business. He was determined that I should talk about his funeral and tell people about the day, so I really am fulfilling his last wishes.”
An accomplished Latin American and Ballroom dancer, another of Dave’s passions was motorcycling, and his last holiday three years ago was motorcycling around Europe with friends.
As a final tribute, Mary arranged for his coffin to be transported from the family home to the church on a special motorcycle hearse. Paul Sinclair, founder of Motorcycle Funerals, provided the transport and Dave’s best friend travelled as pillion passenger, an experience she says Dave would have enjoyed no end.
The pair had grown up in Oxford where their father founded Parchment the Printers, which today is a sister company to Colourful Coffins. Having originally trained as a butcher, Dave then joined the family business and stayed in the printing trade for most of his life, apart from a four-year spell in the army.
When he retired, he moved to Spain to enjoy the sunshine lifestyle, but returned four years ago when his health began to deteriorate and moved in with Mary and her family. Married and divorced, he was 67 when he died and had two grown-up daughters, Nina and Sarah.
Dave’s funeral, which included friends from his parachuting days, was held at St Mary and St John’s Church, Cowley, followed by a burial at Yarnton Cemetery.