Poignant trip to Fiji for family in memory of Gary

A Morpeth couple saw for themselves the impact their son had on a village in Fiji during a two-week visit to the South Pacific country.

Thursday, 18th January 2018, 9:14 am
Updated Thursday, 18th January 2018, 9:15 am
Jennifer and Tony Hedley, and Isobel Jewitt, with residents in the Fijian village.

Gary Hedley, 24, and best friend Lee Pollard, 23, also of Morpeth, died following a one-vehicle collision near Guide Post on November 19, 2015.

Their love of travelling took them to many places and Gary visited Fiji in the summer of 2014 as part of a trip organised by the Think Pacific charity.

A plaque made by nursery children in Stobhill, including Tony and Jennifer's granddaughter Ava, was given to kids in the village.

He stayed with a family at a village in the Nausori area and said the experience was amazing, although he believed the villagers deserved more support.

Following his death, the Hedley family sent more than 60 special Gary’s Gift choir robes to the village.

They have also been fund-raising to fill backpacks for the children out there and Gary’s parents, Jennifer and Tony, and aunt Isobel Jewitt, made the long journey to hand them out and meet the villagers.

Jennifer said that when you stay with a family in Fiji, you become part of their family and they held their own memorial service on the same day that Gary’s family buried their son.

A plaque made by nursery children in Stobhill, including Tony and Jennifer's granddaughter Ava, was given to kids in the village.

She added: “When we were out there, many of the adults and children we spoke to mentioned Gary’s positive personality and how delighted they were when he pledged to help the village.

“It was the trip of a lifetime and although I was very ill by the end of the two weeks, I can honestly say it was an amazing experience.

“It was fantastic to meet the promise that our Gary had made to the villagers. The backpacks included books, pens, pencils, rubbers and rulers and it was great to see how the children reacted when they saw them.

“I wouldn’t say the villagers lived in poverty because they had food and didn’t really need material things, but like Gary, we felt it was vital that the children had basic equipment to help with their education.

“We also handed out some sweets and quite a few Newcastle United shirts that were donated.”

The trio were still in Fiji on the second anniversary of Gary’s death. The emotional day included a service at a beach on the coast miles away from the village, although most of the residents still came along.

Flowers that had been cut by the villagers were tied to a big tree in the sea before the tide went out and Gary and Lee’s names were written in the sand.

They were also invited to sit at the top table at a village wedding during their stay. As the traditional wedding present in the area is a duvet and pillows to help the married couple have good dreams, there were dozens of them and so the spare ones were given to fellow villagers.

Jennifer said: “Even though we arrived in the middle of the night, the village had stayed up to greet us and the welcome was amazing.

“It was so lovely seeing a picture of Gary on the wall in the house he stayed in and we recognised some of the clothes people were wearing as Gary had donated them.

“Everyone had a story about him and one of the dogs in the village is called Gary Hedley.

“There was just one policeman and they would only call the regional police for something very serious, but the village was very well self-policed and we felt safe the whole time.

“The women would always cook for the men. Some of the men worked in the nearby town or stayed in the village to work.

“We were told that the boys went round cleaning up the village once a week and we saw a little of that ourselves.

“Although people were generally happy, some of the young people we spoke to said they wanted to be a pilot so they can see the world.

“We have done what Gary wasn’t able to do in terms of bringing the backpacks, but there’s more to do because these kids need a chance to be able to do things outside the village, and even outside Fiji, if they want to do so.

“My plan is to get a few laptops to the village, as well as more books, and we will be doing more fund-raising, hopefully including the return of the Big Fat Morpeth Pub Quiz.”

Before then, a coffee morning will take place at Easter to raise money to ship out some Morpeth Town FC shirts to the village.

Gary loved the music of The Script and his parents are going to see the band next month. He also loved Coldplay and they plan to see the group at some point.

Jennifer is also looking into setting something up to support parents whose children die before them.