Obituary: Derek Spicer, the man behind Stairway to Heaven memorial to Bethnal Green wartime disaster
PUBLISHED: 17:12 19 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:29 20 August 2019
The man who orchestrated raising £500,000 for the memorial to the 173 victims crushed to death in Bethnal Green’s wartime air-raid shelter disaster has died from a brain tumour at the age of 78.
Derek Spicer, who lost a brother and sister in 1943 in Britain's worst civilian wartime tragedy, was co-founder of the Stairway to Heaven memorial trust set up in 2006.
The retired Lloyds banker was the trust's long-running treasurer and fundraising co-ordinator as well as a champion who organised footfall activities keeping East End youngsters out of trouble.
He died at his home in Brentwood from a brain tumour — but lived to see his charity trust work completed when the memorial was finally unveiled outside Bethnal Green Underground station in December 2017, after a decade of campaigning.
"Derek was the rock of our charity since day one who leaves a big hole," the trust's co-founder Sandra Scotting told the East London Advertiser.
"He worked hard to raise £500,000 and even went out collecting himself in all weathers right up until he became ill and took part in all our events for long hours while also giving talks to schools about the disaster.
"Derek was determined and unwavering in his belief that we would finish the project when he set up our first bank account in 2007, but didn't think it would take so long."
He was also well known as a football coach and helped run a programme for "hard to reach" youngsters at risk of exclusion, to turn their lives around.
He coached at all levels for 40 years and found his "true home" at Shadwell's Mulberry youth centre.
Derek became an icon with the East End's Bangladesh youth movement as head football coach who took a team on tour to Bangladesh in the 1990s. He also coached Stepney's Arbour Youth Academy until he was 76 and could be seen every Friday in any weather coaching youngsters at Mile End Stadium.
His funeral is on September 4 at Bentley Crematorium in Brentwood at 11.30am. The family have asked for any donations to be made online to Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust that Derek helped set up and run, in lieu of flowers.
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