THE WIFE of a former mudlark has told of the moment her husband saw his name immortalised on statue – just days before he sadly died.
Patricia Kemp from Stamshaw wanted to surprise her husband John with a gift to remember on his 69th birthday.
Testament to his childhood days of singing and dancing on the mudflats of The Hard for loose change, she had his named etched on to one of the plaques celebrating those who took part in this slice of city history.
While she initially planned on showing John his gift on his birthday, October 25, she caved in – taking him down to see it on the Mudlarks Memorial at The Hard on Saturday, October 21.
John died three days later of multiorgan failure, just one day before he would have turned 69.
Mrs Kemp, 69, said: ‘John didn’t know this of course, but we were unable to get down to the initial presentation of the plaque because of family commitments, so I planned to save the surprise until his birthday.
‘On Saturday, October 21 we happened to be down near the statue, so I decided to show him.
‘He was absolutely thrilled when he saw his name on the plaque – he had no idea what I had been planning.
‘Just after 6am the next day, he was rushed to Southampton General Hospital because of a heart problem. Unfortunately he died on the 24th – the day before his birthday.’
Patricia says John seeing his name on the Mudlarks Memorial was ‘meant to be’.
She said: ‘Had I waited until his birthday, John never would have seen his name on the plaque. It seems like it was meant to be.
‘I find it so comforting that he got to see it before he died.’
Most mudlarks – who often came from hard-for-cash Portsea families – used to keep their antics a secret from their parents.
Describing John’s days as a mudlark, Patricia said: ‘He loved it. I know he used to hate having to clean himself up before he got home to his parents, but that never stopped him getting out there in the mud.
‘I think it’s fantastic that a statue exists to remember what the mudlarks got up to.’
Before he retired, John was a driving instructor for nearly 30 years.
He had four children, nine grandchildren and had been married to Patricia for six-and-a-half years.
Ahead of John’s funeral at midday on Monday at Portchester Crematorium, Patricia had a message for those who may have known him.
She said: ‘John was a lovely man and I know he taught hundreds of people to drive too. Please feel free to come and celebrate his life with us.’