Husband’s tribute to inspiring campaigner

Sue Cansdale with two of the sheep she made that went on a globe-trotting adventure. Picture by Peter McCartney.
Sue Cansdale with two of the sheep she made that went on a globe-trotting adventure. Picture by Peter McCartney.

A campaigner, writer and former teacher has died at the age of 70.

Sue Cansdale, along with husband Richard, encouraged people to become organ donors after enduring every parent’s worst nightmare when their 22-year-old daughter Zoe was killed in a motorbike accident near their Hartburn home.

Richard and Sue Cansdale.

Richard and Sue Cansdale.

But they turned their loss into a lifeline for thousands of people across the UK with their Legacy of Life transplant charity, set up in Zoe’s memory.

She was a part-time art teacher at King Edward VI School and former students of hers may remember her bringing a live snake into class to show them on occasions at the end of term.

Sue – who was diagnosed with breast cancer 22 years ago, which spread to her bones – also supported some local causes and appeals and did a few quirky projects that were featured in the Herald.

Richard said: “Both I and the world have lost a special person.

“Sue had a way of inspiring people to help the cause she was supporting. She was so loving and caring to other people.

“She was my rock and I will miss her enormously.

“She would have given everything to donate her organs, but she couldn’t because of all the cancer and drugs.

“My wife was a very positive person and she remained that way despite the diagnosis.”

The couple met when they were students in Reading and after getting married and living in the south for a few years, they moved to Hartburn, where Sue grew up.

A house was built on a plot next to her parents’ home and it was in that house where she died in the early hours of Sunday, February 18.

Zoe, who died in 1998, had told her parents that if anything happened to her, she would want her organs to be given for transplant.

Despite Sue’s intervention, it was too late to use her daughter’s main organs as she was not carrying a donor card by the time her parents could be contacted.

But her heart valves transformed the lives of a six-year-old in England and a German baby girl, while her cornea restored the sight of a 24-year-old man.

As part of Legacy of Life, Sue put together a book. Transforming Lives is a collection of moving stories, gathered from donor families, transplant recipients, surgeons and other hospital staff.

The family and supporters raised enough funds to print 1,500 copies and there was a major boost following a successful application to do a pitch on national television in 2007.

A panel of millionaires pledged their support on the ITV show Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway. This led to a further 40,000 copies being printed.

Richard said: “As well as the book, Sue spoke at events and conferences from the perspective of a donor family.

“We both stressed that people who get organs in a transplant should not feel guilty about receiving them.

“At a couple of British Transplant Games, the book was in every goody-bag handed out. In 2019, the World Transplant Games will be in Newcastle and Gateshead and the plan is for the remaining copies of the book, about 1,300, to be handed out then.”

Following a cremation in Whitley Bay, a service to celebrate Sue’s life will take place at Holy Trinity Church in Cambo on Thursday, March 8, from 2.30pm.

The theme is bright smiles and bright clothes.

Campaigns and a global initiative

Sue was prominent in the campaign in the mid-1980s to keep public access to Hartburn Glebe woods. Roland Bibby wrote a piece about it in the Herald and a member of the Woodland Trust read the article.

The trust went on to purchase the site.

During the Balkans war in the mid-1990s, she did an appeal through the Herald to ask for toys that would be then sent out to children at a hospital in Bosnia.

The Cansdales received thousands of toys.

Her quirky projects included a globe-trotting sheep initiative seven years ago. She made some miniature Northumbrian blackface sheep, each with their own name, passport and diary.

Like the travelling gnome phenomenon, they were sent out to friends across the world and these people were asked to pass the creations on to their friends in other countries so each could have a global adventure.

An online blog was created to keep people up-to-date with their travels. The countries they visited included South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Iran and Canada.