He became known as Mr Scanner but fundraising champion Mick Lyons is now in his 30th year of providing life-saving equipment for Portsmouth hospitals
Mick Lyons eases himself back in his chair and says quietly: ‘I’m just an ex-copper who wanted to give something back,’
He adds: ‘When the time comes and they put me in my box it would be nice to know I might have helped others.’
There is a certain irony in that comment, for the 69-year-old champion fundraiser has managed to keep countless people alive for much longer than they expected.
That ‘something’ he has put back into the community of south-east Hampshire and West Sussex currently stands at a staggering £11m. Yes, £11m.
He is probably the most well-known former policeman in the area and he has just entered his 30th year of fundraising to buy equipment for Portsmouth’s hospitals – Queen Alexandra, Cosham, and St Mary’s, Milton.
They are pieces of kit which have helped people across the region, from the diagnosis of cancer to digital keyhole operating theatres and a lithotripter – a machine used to break up kidney and gall stones, from which Mick himself is now benefiting.
A hardened police officer based at Havant until he retired in 1994, he admits breaking down on just one occasion.
‘It was when, right at the beginning, we raised £1m for a body scanner QA. They got me to pull the cord to unveil the plaque and as the material came back there it was – The Grace Lyons Unit. I couldn’t stop the tears and had to go into another room to pull myself together.’
Grace was his mother. Cancer killed her and it was her death which set Mick off on 30 years of non-stop fundraising.
‘At that time we were sending men into space, all the talk was of inter-continental missiles, yet my mother, a well-built woman who was six feet tall, left this earth as a skeleton because we didn’t have the technology here to diagnose it early enough.
‘By the time we found out it was too late.
‘I lost my father to cancer as well and I thought to myself ‘‘I have got to do something to help other people’’.’
It took two-and-a-half years to raise that first million and he became so prominent he was dubbed Mr Scanner. He was awarded the British Empire Medal as a result.
Mick says: ‘It was fantastic to be able to buy that machine for QA, but it didn’t treat cancers, just found them. What I then wanted to do was get some equipment which could help get rid of them.’
So he then set about raising another £2m for a unique cancer research laboratory at QA.
In between all of this he dreamed up the character Rocky who became the mascot, in various guises, for all his appeals.
‘It came after I’d tried to watch Sylvester Stallone in the film Rocky. I didn’t like it, turned it off, but it sowed a seed in my imagination for a logo.’
And so a plethora of Rocky Appeals have followed and continue to this day.
‘My mum told me “if you have your health you’re a millionaire”, so I came up with the idea for the Rocky Appeal. It doesn’t matter how many millions you might have, if you haven’t got your health, you’ve got nothing,’ he says.
‘I think of it like a jigsaw and the hospital is the box it goes in. The quicker we get the pieces together, the quicker we can help more people.’
Mick should now be enjoying retirement at home in Horndean with his wife Stella, the rock behind him for all his fundraising.
But after that first scanner appeal he found he could not stop. He was then 46.
‘Stella wanted a six-month rest between the end of the scanner appeal and the start of fundraising for the lithotriper, but I couldn’t wait.
‘I was really fired up. It was difficult because I was still in the police force at Havant, but I was determined to do all I could.
‘My wife says it’s like me having another woman, but it’s a hospital. People thought I would run out of steam, but it’s my mum who drives me to carry on. I look up at the clouds and see her there, ready to kick me up the backside.’