Tribute to ‘truly inspirational’ Stevenage woman Heidi McNeill

PUBLISHED: 17:18 19 October 2020 | UPDATED: 21:52 19 October 2020

Heidi McNeill, pictured with partner Simon Rutt. Picture: Courtesy of Simon Rutt

Heidi McNeill, pictured with partner Simon Rutt. Picture: Courtesy of Simon Rutt

Archant

A Stevenage woman, whose dying wish was to take on a charity challenge for Garden House Hospice Care, has sadly died in the days leading up to the event.

Heidi's friends and family came together to take on the Pedal for Pounds challenge in her memory, as she sadly died days before the event. Picture: Beth PowerHeidi's friends and family came together to take on the Pedal for Pounds challenge in her memory, as she sadly died days before the event. Picture: Beth Power

Heidi McNeill had planned to take on the hospice’s Pedal for Pounds cycle ride on Sunday, however passed away on Friday, October 16, aged just 49.

After searching high and low for a rickshaw that Heidi could ride in, as she was unable to cycle herself, she and a team of friends and family were set for the challenge.

The team still took part in Sunday’s event on her behalf, and a minute’s silence was held in her memory.

Heidi was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer on December 23, 2019, and in recent months it had spread to her brain and liver.

Heidi's sister challenge passing the finish line for Garden House Hospice Care. Picture: Martin WootonHeidi's sister challenge passing the finish line for Garden House Hospice Care. Picture: Martin Wooton

In the months following her diagnosis, Heidi and her family found comfort in the out-patient services of the hospice, and it became very close to their hearts.

Heidi was the youngest of four, and grew up in Stevenage with siblings Maria, Graham and Sharon.

Looking back on her life, older sister Maria McNeill said: “When you’d introduce her to people she’d say ‘I’m the youngest and I’m the prettiest’.

“She loved horse riding when she was younger, and picked that up again at the beginning of her treatment with the RDA – Riding for the Disabled Association.

Family photo L-R: Heidi's brother Graham, older sister and carer Maria, Heidi and finacé Simon Rutt. Picture: Courtesy of Heidi McNeillFamily photo L-R: Heidi's brother Graham, older sister and carer Maria, Heidi and finacé Simon Rutt. Picture: Courtesy of Heidi McNeill

“She had the courage to get back on the horse.

“When we were younger our mum and dad used to take us on holiday around the country in a caravanette and she loved it.

“Heidi and Simon bought a motor home about four years ago and she took many holidays in Mersea Island.

“She was the best sister – she was the happy go lucky one out of the four of us. She was our best friend, and we did everything as a family.”

It was Heidi's final wish to take part in the Pedal for Pounds challenge, which her friends and family did in her memory. Picture: Martin WootonIt was Heidi's final wish to take part in the Pedal for Pounds challenge, which her friends and family did in her memory. Picture: Martin Wooton

During her upbringing in Stevenage, Heidi enjoyed athletics and was in a dance group.

Heidi’s partner Simon Rutt told the Comet: “She seemed to touch so many people’s hearts with her zest for life. She was always smiling, always wanted a bit of fun out of life.

“She was an extremely hard-working young lady. She had her son Josh and was on her own with him for about 10 years, and worked all through that. She brought him up to be an amazing young man.”

Heidi’s 21-year-old son Josh officially became a police officer last month – something she hoped she would see before she passed away.

The rickshaw had been donated for Heidi to use by a couple, who asked to remain anonymous. Picture: Martin WootonThe rickshaw had been donated for Heidi to use by a couple, who asked to remain anonymous. Picture: Martin Wooton

Simon met Heidi through both working together at the Comet and other Archant titles. Here, Heidi worked as the head of motors, before going on to work at the Institute of the Motor Industry.

Life-long friend Wendy Hennessy – who also met Heidi when they both worked for the Comet – was among those riding the rickshaw on Sunday.

Wendy also helped organise the rickshaw appeal published by this newspaper. She told us: “I am not quite sure where the 20 years have gone since we met, our very first meeting was when I worked at an advertising agency and Heidi arranged to meet wanting to put my advertising rates up, in the Comet!

“I feel so lucky to have had Heidi as a friend. I will always miss her and never ever forget her.”

The rickshaw had been donated for Heidi to use by a couple, who asked to remain anonymous. Picture: Martin WootonThe rickshaw had been donated for Heidi to use by a couple, who asked to remain anonymous. Picture: Martin Wooton

Garden House Hospice Care announced Heidi’s passing on its Facebook page, and said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Heidi McNeill, who left us in the early hours of this morning surrounded by her loved ones.

“Heidi was a loving partner, mother, sister, friend and colleague and will be deeply missed by many.”

Simon added: “It was incredibly difficult on Sunday and we should all be extremely proud of each other. We went through it for her.

“Heidi was truly a inspirational lady.

Heidi and her family, pre-cancer diagnosis. L-R: Fiancé Simon Rutt, Heidi, sisters Maria and Sharon, nephew Ashton - who is fighting testicular cancer - brother Graham, his partner Michelle and Maria's partner Terry. Picture: Courtesy of Heidi McNeillHeidi and her family, pre-cancer diagnosis. L-R: Fiancé Simon Rutt, Heidi, sisters Maria and Sharon, nephew Ashton - who is fighting testicular cancer - brother Graham, his partner Michelle and Maria's partner Terry. Picture: Courtesy of Heidi McNeill

“She taught me how to love and I never thought I would find anybody to love – I’m missing my heartbeat.

“I look at her in complete awe of what she’s achieved and how she’s touched so many people.

“She’s going to be truly missed, not just by the family, but all her friends and colleagues she met throughout her life.

You may also want to watch:

The mum-of-one had set herself a target to £15,000 for the hospice, and so far the team have raised over £9,000.

Special thanks are given to Stevenage Cycles, The Logo Loft and Dinky Drinky Box, which helped the team.

To donate to the cause, go to uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SimonRutt3.

Heidi's partner Simon set off on the cycle ride to raise money for Garden House Hospice Care. Picture: Beth PowerHeidi's partner Simon set off on the cycle ride to raise money for Garden House Hospice Care. Picture: Beth Power


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Comet. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the The Comet