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Tony’s spirit lives on at The Laurels in a memorial garden

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He could not speak but said it all through his eyes - and he never failed to bring a smile to the faces of everyone around him.

When Tony Hurrell passed away at the tragically early age of 38, it left a huge hole in the lives of staff and residents at The Laurels learning disability home in Yarmouth Road, Lowestoft.

For his mother Debbie Norman, the quiet garden of the home where he had spent the happiest 10 years of his life was the perfect place to leave his ashes, in a dragon urn with an impudent expression that mirrored his character.

However, it is only two and a half years later, now coronavirus restrictions are easing, that staff can at last begin work with Mrs Norman on transforming a shady corner into a fitting memorial garden.

The focal point of the garden is a bench engraved with the words Swimming in the Stars, the title of a song by Britney Spears.

“Tony loved swimming and adored Britney Spears so the words are perfect for his memorial,” said his mother.

Toni Atkinson, who has managed The Laurels since it opened in 2008, said: “We’ll now be choosing flowers and shrubs for the garden with Debbie’s help. Debbie is still very much part of The Laurels family and she came to us for Mother’s Day.

“We’ll put up bird boxes and climbing plants on canes at the back of the garden that will attract insects and birds. Tony loved all kinds of wildlife.”

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Tony was born with microcephaly, a condition that meant his head and brain were smaller than expected.

Mrs. Norman said: “He was not able to speak or learn but he still had a wicked sense of humour. He could express his emotions through his eyes.”

She said he had enjoyed the best 10 years of his life at The Laurels and staff had given him the opportunity to do things she would never have been able to.

“He loved going swimming and out on trips. He enjoyed people watching on the seafront,” she recalled.

“He also enjoyed happy holidays, going with staff to Hemsby, Felixstowe and Center Parcs..

“I have never seen staff here without a smile on their faces. When they walk through the door, it is the kids that come first.”

Lesley Saunders, among 10 staff at The Laurels with a combined service of 120 years, recalls her time as Tony’s keyworker with fondness.

She said: “He never failed to put smiles on faces and with Tony no two days were the same. He was a terrible flirt with the ladies!”

Find out more about Laurels

Author: Stephen Pullinger

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