Family thanks hospital team for making dying dad’s wedding wish come true

Bob and Anne Tomkins. Bob is lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask on. Anne is learning in to give him a cuddle, holding a bouquet. They married on the ward hours before he died.

Published on 6 September 2021

The family of a man who was able to marry his wife just hours before he died have thanked hospital staff for making his wish a reality.

Bob Tomkins had terminal lung cancer and was being cared for by staff on Kings D ward at the William Harvey Hospital when his loved ones realised time was running out.

The ward team, led by sister Valeria Pellegrini, pulled out all the stops to arrange for him to marry wife Anne in less than 24 hours, organising paperwork, the registrar, and making his room feel as homely as possible.

The groom was only able to communicate his agreement by squeezing the registrar’s hand, and he passed away the morning after the ceremony.

Anne, who lives in Stanhope, Ashford, said: “The staff were so amazing and if it wasn’t for the care they gave him he might have died even sooner.

“I was so pleased we were able to get married; I just wish I could have had more time with him.”

The wedding was witnessed by their daughter, Corena Older, with her husband and daughter.

She said: “The whole team couldn’t have done any more for him, and for us. From the nurses and healthcare assistants to the tea ladies and cleaners, they all took time to have a chat and a laugh with him and we are so grateful.

“His death left a huge hole. He would do anything for anyone, and was always on hand for advice and help.

“He would buy chocolates for the staff, and tea and coffee, and was always offering to help them, even when he was so very poorly.”

The couple had four children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Mr Tomkins worked as a project manager for Parkerray and his colleagues raised £13,000 for Cancer Research UK after he died in June 2019, aged 69.

Together with family and friends they also donated hundreds of pounds to help buy additional items for the ward, including a day bed for people to be able to stay by their seriously ill loved one’s bedside, a DVD player, shaving kits and mirrors, and flowers for the staff.

Corena and Anne visited the hospital on Friday to hand them over and say thank you in person to the team. The presentation was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Corena said: “The staff were absolutely fantastic and we wanted to do something in dad’s memory so we asked what they needed and they gave us some ideas.

“It was lovely to be able to buy items that will make a difference to patients and their families in the future.

“They are truly wonderful people and we will never forget the care they gave.”

Selena Moore, Kings D ward manager, said: “It is a privilege to care for someone at the end of their life and we were honoured to be able to help Bob and Anne’s wishes come true by arranging their wedding.

“Being able to make a difference is what matters most to us as nurses, and as people. We are all sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and we always want to give the care we would wish our loved ones to receive.

“We are truly grateful to Anne and the family for giving something back, and their gifts will help many patients in the future.”

Bob Tomkins' wife Anne and daughter Corena with Kings D staff and the items they have donated. They are pictured inside the hospital, Anne and Corena are standing together. There are three members of staff in the photo, one is kneeling by a suitcase