Dream move turns to tragedy as Sheringham woman Zoë dies in Spain
A dream move to Spain has ended in tragedy for a heartbroken Sheringham family after a much-loved wife and mother died after being taken ill on her husband’s birthday.
Zoë Chatting-Tonks had long dreamed of an escape to the sun, and in March 2011 sailed out to a new life in Valencia with husband Ian and children Imogen, Ethan and Neäve.
But on May 21 she was taken ill with a pancreatic problem, and she died in September aged 39 after four months in intensive care in the Spanish city.
The tragedy struck just after Mrs Chatting-Tonks, who was born in Norwich and grew up in East Runton, landed a job as an A-level mathematics teacher at a Spanish/English secondary school.
Mr Chatting-Tonks, 50, who moved to Spain to retire after 21 years running Fast Lane car accessory shop at Sheringham, said his wife’s death made it “tempting” to return to Sheringham.
But he said: “It took Zoë and I such a long time to get here and I feel I would be letting her down if we returned. We all love our new life here and the children are very settled, although of course we all miss Sheringham.”
The couple met when Mrs Chatting-Tonks - a former teacher at Notre Dame High in Norwich - came into Fast Lane for advice on how to fix her radio in her new car, ready for a drive to her second home in Spain.
Mr Chatting-Tonks said: “The moment Zoë walked into my shop something clicked between us. We had a choice to become a couple but I had no choice in falling in love with her.”
He added: “Some of the things that we had in common were our love of Spain and our love of blue skies in the sun. It took us a long while to get over here and we had to overcome several obstacles before we could make our new life finally happen.
“Zoë had been teaching in a local English school, but she had just secured a new position as an A-level mathematics teacher in a larger secondary school which was her true vocation in life. She was really excited about her new job and we had both said that everything in our new life was at last coming together.”
He said she was well known in Sheringham for her “bubbly, outgoing nature”, and added: “Everybody who met her just fell in love with her.
“She would be often be seen with our children walking up Station Road, taking hours to do a five-minute walk because she stopped to talked to so many people in the street or other shops, banks and building societies.”
Mrs Chatting-Tonks, who also leaves her mother Sue Chatting and daughter Kassia, 19, was active in Sheringham before the family emigrated. She was involved with Weybourne Road allotment committee, and in the past the Cromer and Sheringham Operatic and Dramatic Society (CSODS).
On Wednesday, her mother is staging an informal musical event at West Runton parish church to remember her daughter’s life and love of music.
She said the Cliftonville Singers would “sing songs that she sang”, while Peter Howell from CSODS would make some comments about her.
She said Kassia would share some memories of her mother.
She also helped out at the Little Monkeys nursery on Holt Road when needed.
She loved dressing up for the 1940s weekend at North Norfolk Railway and turning the clock back in the shop, winning first prize in 2010. She was also a keen member of British Naturism.
Mr Chatting-Tonks paid tribute to the people in Spain, saying they had been “amazing” since his wife’s illness and death.
“I thought Norfolk people were supportive, but here in Spain it seems to be a cultural thing that people just wade in and help with everything from washing to cooking and looking after the children to doing the gardening. I have been amazed at their reaction to what has happened.”
He said he would like to thank everyone in Sheringham for their messages of support, and said he could be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org