Community’s shock at tragic death of Gorleston woman following fall in supermarket

Mel Thomas, who was passionate about memory clubs she set up in Gorleston, has died aged 78. Mel Thomas, who was passionate about memory clubs she set up in Gorleston, has died aged 78.

Friday, January 24, 2014
2:57 PM

Tributes have been paid to an “inspirational” community stalwart whose sudden death following a fall in a supermarket has shocked and saddened everyone she came into contact with.

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Award-winning Melrose Thomas, known as Mel, was re-launching her third memory club and arranging 10th anniversary celebrations for her first, when she fell in Morrisons supermarket in Gorleston.

Her daughter Karen Docwra said this week she was heartened by the response from well-wishers all of whom were struggling to come to terms with the tragic suddenness of her mother’s death on Saturday.

It followed an incident the previous Monday when Mrs Thomas, from Bradwell, popped to the supermarket, loaded her car, but apparently nipped back and fell over in the toilets.

Although initially she was well enough to call her partner her condition rapidly deteriorated. She died in hospital five days later, aged 78.

A spokesman for the supermarket confirmed an investigation was underway. An inquest was opened and adjourned by the coroner in Norwich on Wednesday.

Mrs Docwra said her mother was an amazing woman and an inspiration to everyone she knew, turning to social work later in life and making a real difference to her community.

She was passionate about the memory clubs she set up for people with Alzheimer’s, helping them to accept and manage their diagnosis and receive therapy and reminiscence.

The service was also aimed at offering respite for carers and providing a relaxed and social setting for members, making it a unique provision.

She set up her first memory club in January 2004 and another three years later. A third club in Hemsby was in the process of being re-launched.

The clubs now have a membership of around 90 and a waiting list, with the idea spreading to Scotland and Cornwall where similar clubs have sprung up based on her caring format.She was handed a Living Legend award by the Queen at Windsor Castle for her voluntary work in 2006 and was continually fundraising and bidding for grants for outings and meals for members.

In April last year she was named among other local heroes in Gorleston and presented with a carer’s award.

Members of her club at Gorleston St Andrew’s went ahead with 10th anniversary celebrations on Tuesday, as she had planned.

Yarmouth mayor John Burroughs, who was at the event, said: “It was marvellous what she did with the memory clubs. She was obviously very active and very popular. She was a terrific worker who did a fantastic job and will be greatly missed. It is very sad.”

It is estimated she raised around £75,000 in the last ten years to support the clubs.

Born in Dersley, Gloucestershire it was a caring household that included adopted and fostered children.

An early first marriage at 16 was evidence of a rebellious streak and by the age of 19 she had four children, but only two survived. The marriage failed but undeterred she went on to marry Brian at the age of 26, just a week after they met. The couple had five children, but lost a son aged seven in a car accident.

Her husband’s RAF role meant over 36 moves and more than 32 different jobs spanning police officer and shop assistant.

They moved to Norfolk from Nottingham in 1983, Mrs Thomas working at Mildred Stone House before taking the job of manager at Magdalen House in Gorleston.She went to university and qualified as a social worker specialising in mental health at the age of 52.

She retired as a social services senior manager at the age of 60 in 1995 with serious heart problems and underwent a double heart bypass.

After convalescence she went on to train as a Relate councillor. Later she resolved to use her training to help people with Alzheimer’s.

Her husband Brian died in Ibiza while they were celebrating her 70th birthday after 44 years of marriage.

She leaves a partner Mike Cable and is a well-loved nan of 75 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

A Morrisons spokesman said: “We are working closely with the local Environmental Health Office to aid their investigation.”

A spokesman for the borough council said: “As is legally required under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), Morrisons has reported this accident to the borough council, which is the enforcement authority for these types of premises. A RIDDOR report is only required in certain circumstances, including when someone is taken to hospital following an accident at such premises. Council officers are investigating the circumstances of the accident.”

A funeral date has yet to be set.

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