Bexleyheath bus driver coronavirus victim had not had a day of sick in 15 years

A London bus driver who died with Covid-19 defied calls from his family to stop working during the pandemic because he was “proud” to be keeping the capital moving.

More than 200 people lined the streets as a double-decker displaying Richard Whitfield’s name in its destination blind joined the funeral procession from Bexleyheath bus garage to the crematorium.

The father-of-four, 56, had not taken a day off sick for 15 years before he was struck down with coronavirus symptoms. Floral tributes included flowers in the shape of his 132 bus.

He was also a keen biker, and a cavalcade of motorbikes followed the cortege.

He died on April 30 in Medway Hospital after just over two weeks in intensive care.

His sister Shelene Whitfield said: “Richard was the most lovable person. He was a larger than life character and a gentleman. His passing has left a huge hole in the family.

“It was amazing to see so many people line the streets for the procession. I’d never seen anything like it. The garage organised so much. They weren’t just friends, he had a second family at work.”

Mr Whitfield, from the Isle of Grain in Kent, suffered from diabetes and was on medication for blood pressure, which put him at risk of more severe coronavirus symptoms.

He started complaining of feeling unwell at the beginning of April and began self isolating. He was rushed to hospital when he started struggling to breathe on April 11.

“In 15 years he never had a single day off sick until he got the virus,” Ms Whitfield said.

“He was proud of his job and he loved it. He had to a mask and hand sanitiser, which he provided himself. It seemed like not enough protection was provided for him. We did say he shouldn’t be at work, but he just said ‘I’m a key worker and I have to get others to work’.”

Daughter Sarah, 39, added: “Dad’s death has devastated the family. He was a fantastic man and his funeral just showed how he was loved by so many. None of us wanted him to go into work during the pandemic and we were all telling him that. They are key workers, making sure other everyone can get work and need to be protected.”

Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 43 TfL staff members, including 33 bus workers. TfL has said there will be an investigation into the deaths.

Tom Cunnington, Head of Bus Business Development at TfL, said: “My heartfelt condolences go to the friends and family of Mr Whitfield. He was a dedicated and popular member of the Go-Ahead team in Bexleyheath and he will be greatly missed.

“The safety of London’s bus drivers, who have played such a vital role in supporting the fight against coronavirus, is our absolute priority.”

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