HE was a true patriot, a fiercely proud former Royal Marine, generous and kind friend, and loving husband.
The loved ones of Jon Hankey have been left reeling by his sudden death at 41 from a massive heart attack while working in Africa.
Jon was a regional manager in the maritime security industry and split his time between Benin in west Africa, and Waterlooville.
His devastated wife Claire, 32, said everyone is in shock at losing the larger-than-life character.
Hundreds of people have paid tribute to him on Facebook and Claire says the outpouring of grief has been overwhelming.
The couple met at Pompey’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in April 2008 and that Christmas they were engaged. They married in a fairytale wedding in Dorset – Claire’s home county – in 2010.
She said: ‘I didn’t know it at the time but Jon told his friends on the day we met that I was the girl he was going to marry. He decided there and then. Everyone who knew us would say we were soul mates. I’m just completely devastated.’
Jon, the youngest of four brothers from Clanfield, joined the Royal Marines in 1992 and became a highly-trained sniper. He served in Northern Ireland before leaving the forces in 2002.
‘He was very proud to be a marine and he still lived by the code,’ said Claire. ‘Apart from our wedding, being in the marines was his proudest moment. He was fiercely loyal to the marines. He was a man who was always true to his roots.
‘He was a heavyweight boxing champion of the Royal Marines. He played rugby and football, too. He loved sport. If you met Jon you’d never forget him. He lit up every room he walked into and he was the life and soul of the party.
‘His Monkey Man nickname came about because he was always goofing around. He was famous for his monkey impressions. He had a heart of gold, he was a real hero. Jon would pick you up when you were feeling down and was a tower of strength.’
Jon was well-known for always having a big smile on his face and endless anecdotes of his time in the jungle with the marines and parties with friends. Claire added: ‘He lived every day to the max. He was always happy.’
Five years-ago Jon had a heart attack but was given a clear bill of health after doctors fitted a stent.
Claire, who works in the health and beauty industry, said: ‘It was an absolute shock that it happened again. The death certificate from Africa said heart failure. He passed away on April 23 at 10.30pm, St George’s Day. It always annoyed him that I couldn’t remember what date St George’s Day is. Now I will never forget it.’
The last post on Jon’s Facebook page is a poignant one. It simply reads, ‘Proud to be English’ along with a picture of the St George’s flag.
Jon’s older brother Alan, 49, from Cosham, echoed Claire’s words.
He said: ‘When Jon was a boy he was always running off on adventures.
‘He was a great character. My children adored him. Even as a child he always had a smile on his face.
‘I remember him going into the Royal Marines as a boy. Watching him at his passing out parade I realised he’d become a young man.
‘Jon had that natural ability to make people laugh. That is very rare.’.
Friends are welcome to Jon’s funeral which is tomorrow at The Oaks crematorium, Bartons Road, Havant, at 1.45pm.
There is a donation page for Help for Heroes – a charity Jon championed – at justgiving.com/jonhankey