Coronavirus victim Walter Harris supported efforts to save A&E department
Tributes have been paid to a health campaigner who has died from coronavirus at the hospital whose A&E department he fought to save from closure.
Walter Harris was part of the long-running Save Charing Cross Campaign, which last year celebrated a reprieve along with Ealing Hospital’s emergency department.
The campaign group has now been renamed as HAFSON (Hammersmith and Fulham Save Our NHS).
HAFSON’s Merril Hammer said: “Walter was a quiet, behind-the-scenes, supporter of the campaign from the start. He also took part in several media presentations in support of the NHS and Charing Cross Hospital. Those of us who met Walter will remember him well for his quiet dignity and extraordinary sense of humour.”
His wife Suzanna who was also involved in the campaign said: “He was diagnosed as having the virus ‘mildly’ but then went downhill quickly. He was looked after very kindly and made comfortable. Thank goodness for Charing Cross.”
She said her 88-year-old husband became unwell at home but did not really have any coronavirus symptoms, apart from aches and pains.
“Of course we were anxious about sending him to hospital,” she added.
He had an underlying heart condition and died from coronavirus and pneumonia on 21 April.
Mrs Harris said: “Coronavirus is so indiscriminate.”
She said her heart went out to those who also lost loved ones who were at the beginning of their life.
And she wanted to thank the volunteers and organisations who have supported vulnerable people by delivering food for them.
“It’s brought out the best in people. The clapping is very moving. I think it’s going to change everything for good.”
Mrs Harris said her husband was a kind, gentle man who had many interests and did media interviews for the campaign to save Charing Cross as “he was quite good talking to a camera. He came on demonstrations and was at the stall and he used to write letters.”
He wanted to become a doctor but studied zoology instead at London University and enjoyed bird-watching at the Essex marshes, Slimbridge in Gloucestershire and Brownsea in Dorset.
Mr Harris had worked in advertising and was a medical copywriter, writing instructions for patients to explain how to take their medication, as well as public information about diseases.
Poignantly a few weeks before he became ill from coronavirus, he wrote his epitaph as he was always losing his glasses. He said: “When I am dead, think only this of me that there is some corner of a London flat where you will find my glasses.”
He was born in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex before his family moved to Cheltenham, where he picked potatoes alongside Italian prisoners of war, and later Islington. He had a brother Jack and sister Sheila.
He met Suzanna in 1980 through friends who rode tandem bicycles and the couple married two years later.
Their children Sam and Natasha are now in their thirties. The family eventually set up home in West Kensington.
Mr Harris was an enthusiastic postcard collector, including Edwardian photos and edited the newsletter for the West London Postcard Club.
“It was very funny, very witty,” said Mrs Harris. “He used to be a good speaker.”
And he enjoyed adding to his collection when the couple were out: “He would scurry off and find a postcard shop and say ‘I’ve been a little bit naughty’” as he added to his collection.
And he was a familiar face at Portobello Road market where he had an antiques stall on Saturdays for around 20 years.
“He enjoyed that enormously and enjoyed it when people haggled. He was quite knowledgeable about glass and china and enjoyed researching items,” said Mrs Harris..
As he got older “He would very much enjoy browsing through his postcard collection and finding them online and he had a wealth of information. People from the postcard club have been saying how much they enjoyed his talks and his company generally,” said Mrs Harris.
“He was gentle, he enjoyed reading and talking about books. He was a gentleman. He was a good companion always.”
Mr Harris had a good bass singing voice and entertained people at his wife’s university reunion at Trinity College Dublin where was invited to join in singing grace. He also sang a sea shanty Tom Bowling’s Gone Aloft.
He had a Jewish burial on Tuesday (April 28) at Bushey which was arranged by the rabbi at Charing Cross Hospital and family members.
Mrs Harris was unable to attend because of health and travel reasons and said friends had supported her and her children by saying they would be there in spirit, even if they could not attend because of the pandemic.
Julia Gregory – Local Democracy Reporter
April 29, 2020