81-year-old Berkhamsted gran set to skydive in memory of husband - one of the first victims of the Covid pandemic

Her husband died after contracting Covid while they were on a skiiing holiday

By Richard Silverwood
Thursday, 24th February 2022, 1:10 pm
Daring grandmother Heather Donovan with her late husband, Patrick, who died of Covid-19 almost two years ago.

An intrepid grandmother from Potten End is to go on a skydive in memory of her husband, who was one of the earliest victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Daring Heather Donovan is an active 81-year-old who still enjoys playing golf and walking her dog.

But when she tripped and fell while out shopping a few weeks ago and came home with a black eye, daughter Milly Burt feared that, for the first time, she was beginning to look infirm.

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"I was worried that she might be losing her confidence," said Milly, 55, who lives in Berkhamsted. "But then about a week later, she announced she was going to do this skydive! I nearly fell over as well!"

The tandem dive, in which Heather will be strapped to an experienced instructor before leaping out of a plane from about 15,000 feet, will take place at Chatteris Airfield in Cambridgeshire on Saturday March 26.

And it's a poignant date because it's almost two years exactly since her husband, Patrick, died in 2020 at the age of 81 after contracting Covid while they were on a skiing holiday together in Italy.

Milly explained: "Because there was an outbreak close to their resort in Italy, my brother Karl and I questioned whether our parents should go. But they were determined, dismissing the possible dangers posed by this new disease.

"They returned home on March 7, both feeling unwell. Dad deteriorated rapidly and was taken into hospital. On March 25, the hospital phoned to say he had passed away."

The trauma was acutely felt because, at that time, the pandemic was in its early stages and few protocols were in place about what to do or how to behave.

Milly went on: "Mum was able to see him for five minutes and came back from the hospital with just his wedding ring and a few personal belongings that she was advised to bag up and dispose of.

"I was staying with mum, and we had to isolate. I wasn't even able to see or hug my two sons, who were grieving for their beloved grandfather, or my husband.

"Arranging a funeral was very stressful because of all the restrictions in place. Only ten people were allowed to attend, and there was no wake."

That will all be put right on the day of the skydive because a celebration of Patrick's life will also be held, to be attended by the whole family, including grandsons George Burt, 21, Jamie Donovan, 20, and 17-year-old Alfie Burt. The family has also written a message on the National Covid Memorial Wall in London.

This is not the first time Heather has tried something so daring. In her 40s, she joined the Air Training Corps and was given an aerobatic experience in a Tiger Moth aircraft, even though she was terrified of flying!

Now she can't wait to throw herself into the skydive, and will receive just a few instructions and a safety talk beforehand.

"She is brilliant," said proud Milly, who works at Ashlyns School. "An inspirational, young-at-heart, amazing mum."

The plunge has a secondary good cause too - raising money for the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted, for whom Heather has worked as a volunteer for more than ten years.

The hospice relies on public donations and needs £5 million a year to continue its valuable work.

Heather has set up her own JustGiving fundraising page online, and has already generated more than £1,900.

When Milly was asked about the target, her appropriate reply was: "The sky's the limit!"