A grieving widow who lost her ‘soulmate’ to a rare and aggressive disease which affects just one in a million people a year has been left ‘overwhelmed’ by generosity and support from others.
Millie Croft, 55, of Hills Road, Steyning, lost her soulmate Paul, 57, who was diagnosed with Sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) on January 19 and died just two weeks later at St Barnabas House in Worthing.
He left behind his daughter Hannah, 26 and son, Nathan, 24, and Millie’s children, Lucy, 21, Ruby, 19 and Elliot, 18.
Known as Lobby and described as a ‘one in a million guy’, Paul coached and played for a number of Southern Combination League football teams across Sussex.
He grew up in Wick, Littlehampton, before moving to Shoreham ten years ago, where he met his second wife, Millie.
Millie said: “The people of Steyning have been so supportive. I have only lived here 12 years and feel like they are my family, and Paul was so popular and loved.
“More than 500 people came to his funeral and lined up in Steyning High Street – it was breathtaking and I was so overwhelmed. The service was exactly how I wanted it to go – it was perfect.
“The day was topped off when we all went back to Steyning Cricket Club. My close friend surprised me with fireworks and it was so beautiful. “Everytime I wanted to pay for things, they would pretty much get paid for and all Paul’s friends came together to sort everything all out for me – I am so grateful.”
With help from the community, the family have managed to raise £5,000 for St Barnabas hospice, who Millie said holds a ‘special place’ in her heart.
She said: “I have been there twice in the last two years. I lost my mum to pancreatic cancer in 2015 and once I started to feel happy again Paul then got sick.
“The palliative care they give is exceptional – they let Paul die with dignity and peace and it makes me want to raise more for them.
“I could have gone down the road of raising money for CJD, but it is so rare and no one knows enough about it and I don’t think ever will – it is one of those awful things and there is nothing you can do about it.
“St Barnabas was an easy and much more important choice for me.”
The funds have also paid for two benches, which have been placed in Steyning Cricket Club and Steyning Town Community Football Club.
Millie said: “This keeps Paul’s memory going and I do think to myself that he is looking down at me. The cricket club is close to where I live so I now walk over there and sit on the bench and look at the wonderful view there is and reflect.”
A plaque has also been put up at the Chequer Inn pub in Steyning, which was Paul’s local and a plaque is being made for a memory wall in Chelsea Football Club. where avid fan Paul regularly visited.
Two football matches have also been arranged to raise more funds.
Millie said: “Steyning will play Wick on an annual basis in Paul’s memory, we are hoping the first one will be on August 6.
“Paul’s brother Keith and his friend Peter have also organised a match between Shoreham and Littlehampton on July 16. All money raised will go to the hospice.”
Millie said it was ‘impossible’ to list all the people who have supported her.
She said: “I must say a special thanks to James Johnson from Steyning who was coached by Paul in the Fishersgate Flyers. He ran the Brighton Marathon for the first time and raised £935.
“Also Paul’s daughter Hannah’s friend Valerie Hedges who raised over £500 and ran a half marathon.
“And thank you to my family, friends and the community who I now call my ‘Steyning family’. There has been some Sunday’s where I haven’t wanted to get out of bed – but this has kept me going and I have felt like I have had a purpose.
“Lastly a big thanks to Peter Kennard of HD Tribe in Worthing – he really did do more than he should of and has been there for me the whole way through.”
CJD is a rare and fatal condition which causes brain damage that worsens rapidly over time.
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