Sunday 25 March 2018

'I wasn't even allowed kiss him goodbye' - well known Irish football chief dies lying on sunbed during dream holiday in Bulgaria

The couple enjoying a previous holiday together.
The couple enjoying a previous holiday together.

Claire McNeilly

The heartbroken widow of a legendary Northern Ireland football administrator who died suddenly on holiday in Bulgaria has spoken of her grief at not being allowed to kiss her partner of 53 years goodbye.

Marion Hawkes was lying on a sunbed beside her husband, Sammy Hawkes - former club secretary of Harland and Wolff Welders and one of junior football's best known characters - when he suffered an acute heart attack and passed away on August 30.

The couple on their wedding day.
The couple on their wedding day.

The east Belfast couple, who have two grown-up sons, were on the third morning of what was supposed to be a week-long holiday in the Sunny Beach resort when Marion discovered the 77-year-old had 'gone'.

She also told of the bureaucratic nightmare of getting his remains brought home from the Balkan nation ahead of his funeral at Willowfield Parish Church and subsequent cremation at Roselawn last Friday.

Marion with sons, Alan and Samuel Jnr.
Marion with sons, Alan and Samuel Jnr.

Mrs Hawkes (73) said that Sammy, who had undergone a heart bypass operation three years ago, told her just before they left home that this would be their last trip abroad.

"Sammy didn't like travelling," she revealed.

Marion Hawkes with a photograph of Sammy and their grandchildren in Belfast
Marion Hawkes with a photograph of Sammy and their grandchildren in Belfast

"We used to go to Bulgaria when the kids were younger but we got out of the way of it until this year when we decided to go to Sunny Beach for what Sammy said would be our last holiday.

"I joked and told him that it might be his last holiday, but that it wouldn't be mine."

The grandmother-of-two added: "But the night before it happened the two of us were on the balcony before dinner and I told Sammy it would be our last trip abroad because there was too much travelling involved and I was feeling a wee bit off."

Mrs Hawkes recalled how normal that Tuesday morning had been right up until that shocking moment when she realised that she had lost her husband of more than half a century.

"We got up, had our breakfast, got two sunbeds and we were lying there when I told Sammy I was going to buy a bottle of Sprite because I was thirsty," she said.

"I came back from the shop around 9.30am and we both had a drink and he told me he was going to put his head down for a while. I did the same thing but then I got so warm I decided to take a dip in the pool.

"I tried to waken him to tell him what I was going to do and that's when I discovered that he was away. Dead."

The retired factory worker said the male pool attendant carried out emergency first aid in a bid to resuscitate Mr Hawkes, while they waited for an ambulance to arrive some 60 minutes later.

Her dreadful ordeal continued when officers were called following Mr Hawkes' sudden death and she was taken to the police station to make a statement.

"They wouldn't let me touch him or kiss him goodbye; it was awful," she recalled.

The Hawkes had set off on their holiday together on August 27 but, one week later, on September 3, Marion returned home with her youngest son Alan (46), a barman, who had jumped on a flight to Bulgaria and was at her side the day after the tragedy.

It took a further four days before her husband's body was repatriated to Northern Ireland on September 7, via Romania and Hungary.

There was an additional problem of having to translate all the documentation, including the death certificate, from Bulgarian into English before the family could proceed with the funeral arrangements.

Mr Hawkes, who was vice-president of the Harland and Wolff Welders FC Social Club and rarely missed a match, home or away, with his beloved team, appeared to be in good health when they left on their summer holiday.

Ironically, it was Marion who had been poorly - to the point that they almost cancelled their trip three weeks before departure when she was hospitalised for a second time this year.

"I collapsed in my bedroom and ended up in the kidney unit. It turned out that I had a urine infection but I got out after a week and I'm now on antibiotics for life," she said.

"We were going to cancel the holiday because I didn't feel that well, but then we thought it might help us. Everyone was worried about me when we left - not (about) Sammy."

Losing Sammy has been hard on his sons, Alan and 49-year-old train supervisor, Samuel, as well as granddaughters Corrie (22) and 17-year-old Reagen, whom the elderly couple "practically reared" after Alan split up with his partner a decade ago.

It has also been difficult for his wife and soulmate to get used to living alone after all this time.

"It's the wee stupid things you miss," Marion said.

"He always got up earlier than me and I still expect him to be sitting on the settee every morning."

She added: "It hasn't sunk in for the two boys yet.

"They saw their daddy going on holiday and never come back; they're still looking for closure."

Half of Mr Hawkes' ashes will be scattered over Harland and Wolff football ground; the other half is being kept to be mixed with Marion's when she passes, and will be buried in her mother May's grave at Roselawn.

Belfast Telegraph

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