Tributes to health campaigner, part of the Save Charing Cross Hospital campaign, who dies with coronavirus at 88

Tributes have been paid to a health campaigner who has died from coronavirus at the hospital whose A&E department he fought to save from closure.

Walter Harris was part of the long-running Save Charing Cross Campaign, which last year celebrated a reprieve, along with Ealing Hospital’s emergency department.

Walter Harris

The campaign group has now been renamed as HAFSON (Hammersmith and Fulham Save Our NHS).

HAFSON’s Merril Hammer said: “Walter was a quiet, behind-the-scenes supporter of the campaign from the start. He also took part in several media presentations in support of the NHS and Charing Cross Hospital.

“Those of us who met Walter will remember him well for his quiet dignity and extraordinary sense of humour.”

His wife Suzanna, who was also involved in the campaign, said: “He was diagnosed as having the virus ‘mildly’ but then went downhill quickly.

He was looked after very kindly and made comfortable. “Thank goodness for Charing Cross.”

Mrs Harris said her 88-year-old husband became unwell at home but did not really have any coronavirus symptoms, apart from aches and pains.

“Of course we were anxious about sending him to hospital,” she added.

Mr Harris had an underlying heart condition and died from coronavirus and pneumonia on April 21.

Mrs Harris said: “Coronavirus is so indiscriminate.”

She said her heart went out to those who also had lost loved ones who were at the beginning of their life.

And she wanted to thank the volunteers and organisations who have supported vulnerable people by delivering food for them.

She said: “It’s brought out the best in people. The clapping is very moving. I think it’s going to change everything for good.”

Mrs Harris said her husband was a kind, gentle man who had many interests and did media interviews for the campaign to save Charing Cross as “he was quite good talking to a camera. He came on demonstrations and was at the stall and he used to write letters.”

He wanted to become a doctor but studied zoology instead at London University and enjoyed bird-watching at the Essex marshes, Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, and Brownsea in Dorset.

Mr Harris had worked in advertising and was a medical copywriter, writing instructions for patients to explain how to take their medication, as well as public information about diseases.

Poignantly, a few weeks before he became ill from coronavirus, he wrote his epitaph as he was always losing his glasses. He said: “When I am dead, think only this of me, that there is some corner of a London flat where you will find my glasses.”

He was born in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex before his family moved to Cheltenham, where he picked potatoes alongside Italian prisoners of war, and later Islington. He had a brother Jack, and sister Sheila.

He met Suzanna in 1980 through friends who rode tandem bicycles, and the couple married two years later.

Their children Sam and Natasha are now in their 30s.

The family eventually set up home in West Kensington.

Mr Harris was an enthusiastic postcard collector, including those of Edwardian photos, and edited the newsletter for the West London Postcard Club.

“It was very funny, very witty,” said Mrs Harris. “He used to be a good speaker.”

He had a Jewish burial on Tuesday, April 28 in Bushey, which was arranged by the rabbi at Charing Cross Hospital and family members.

Mrs Harris was unable to attend because of health and travel reasons and said friends had supported her and her children by saying they would be there in spirit, even if they could not attend because of the pandemic.

Top: Walter Harris helped to save Charing Cross Hospital


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