One of Britain’s oldest and longest-serving poppy sellers has been found dead at the bottom of the Avon Gorge after she apparently “lost faith in people” when £250 was stolen in the post and having been “harassed” by charities requesting donations.
Olive Cooke, 92, from Fishponds, Bristol, was found by police two days before the anniversary of VE Day. She had sent £250 to a relative two months ago only for it to be stolen, and she “couldn’t get it out of her system”, according to her friend Michael Earley, 72.
He claimed that after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, Ms Cooke had to cancel numerous direct debit payments to charities and was struggling to cope financially and emotionally, as she was bombarded with phone calls and letters from the organisations that “pestered” her to start donating again. “She felt guilty she couldn’t give in the same way she wanted to give,” Mr Earley said.
Ms Cooke’s body was found near the Clifton Suspension Bridge in her home city, after onlookers reportedly saw her climb over the railings using a stepladder. Police are not treating her death as suspicious.
The volunteer, whose father served in the First World War, started selling poppies for the Royal British Legion in 1938 aged 16 and dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Armed Forces charity.
Following the death of her husband Leslie Hussey-Yeo, a sailor in the Royal Navy, in Italy in 1943, the then-21-year-old war widow vowed to keep fundraising. She sold an estimated 30,000 poppies and stood in the doorway of the Bristol Cathedral every year in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.
Alastair Watson, the Lord Mayor of Bristol said: “We were all deeply saddened to hear about the death of Olive Cooke. She was a wonderful lady who dedicated her life to selling poppies and helping other people.
“Our paths crossed at many events, and I was delighted to award her the Lord Mayor’s medal last year.” He added: “Her death is a big loss to the city of Bristol, and our thoughts are with all of her family and friends at this sad time.”
Ms Cooke is survived by two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her daughter Kathryn King said: “My mum was much loved. She lived a long life and achieved so much. We are all, as a family, so proud of everything she did. She will be missed by us all.”
The Royal British Legion’s area manager for the South West Midlands, David Lowe, also paid tribute to Mrs Cooke’s “dedication and commitment”. He said that as well as collecting, Ms Cooke also acted as the standard bearer in the Bedminster Down Women’s section for 54 years until 1998. She later became secretary and chairman of the section.
“Olive’s remarkable efforts over the years should be highly commended. She will be greatly missed, but not forgotten,” Mr Lowe said.
Ms Cooke was given the Points of Light award by the Prime Minister last year in recognition of her “outstanding” work changing her community and inspiring others.
Last year, Ms Cooke said she would never stop selling poppies. “It is important to remember the people who died in the wars, and are still dying now,” she told the Bristol Post.
An inquest into Ms Cooke’s death is due to open at Avon Coroner’s Court next week.Reuse content