WHEN the family of Karen Morris posted the sad news about her death on social media they received well over 1,000 messages of sympathy – many from former pupils of Arnewood School who paid tribute to how she had transformed their lives.
The New Milton mum of two worked at Arnewood School for over seven years as a pastoral support and assistant head of year.
Daughter Paige (22) revealed: “We have been totally overwhelmed by how many people have contacted us. Many of her former students told of how she had supported them through very difficult times and had helped them so much in life.
“She had such a positive impact on so many people. We’ve had calls, cards and messages, from so many students saying they wouldn’t be where they are now if had not been for mum.”
Karen (pronounced Kairen) died in November of pancreatic cancer around 16 months after first being diagnosed. Son Bradley told how from the beginning his mother was determined to get well and return to Arnewood School.
He said: “She absolutely adored that job and the students loved her. All she would ever talk about was when she was going to go back to school.
“It meant everything to her.”
‘The students loved her’
Paige smiles when she remembers how her mother had asked her and Brad if she could start working at Arnewood School, beginning as a receptionist, saying: “I was a bit worried because mum was so stunning I thought all the boys would be talking about her and they were!
“They used to say ‘Have you seen that fit receptionist?’ And I’d tell them ‘that’s my mum!’
“Mum was a complete head turner, everywhere you went with her people would stare. They used to think we were sisters!
“I was very proud of her. She quickly graduated from reception to learning support with children with special needs which she absolutely loved. The she became pastoral care. She really found herself with that job, she was so right for it. She was a very caring person, always going above and beyond what was expected of her.”
Before working at Arnewood School, Karen had been a receptionist at several estate agents in the area while also at one time, working part-time at the Engelburn nursing home in Barton.
As her children grew up Karen and Paige would enjoy mum and daughter lunch and shopping trips while dad Paul, who is manager of Bashley FC, would be at the football ground along with Brad who is now team captain.
‘She was so beautiful’
Paul said: “Karen knew from the start that football was my life, she never moaned about me being busy most weekends, or the muddy boots and kits.
“When Brad started playing she loved to come and watch him. The only time she ever moaned about football was when I and Brad would have it on the telly.”
Paul admits he thought he had “absolutely no chance” of ever dating Karen who he first met at Arnewood School. He said: “She was so beautiful, she was in the year below me and I never had the courage to speak to her then. But when I was 20 I saw her in a in a nightclub in Bournemouth.
“I just went up and said ‘Do you fancy going out for a drink some time?’ She turned me down saying she had just split up with a boyfriend.
“I just walked off but the next week she was there again.
“So I went up and said ‘I really apologise for last week. I was a bit drunk as well.’
“Then two weeks later a friend of hers phoned me and said ‘Oh, Karen would just like to say she thought it was really sweet of you to apologise and she’d like to go out for a drink.’
“And that was it, we literally went out for that drink and very quickly we were mad about each other.”
The couple got married in July 1994 going on to have Brad first, then Paige. Paul built up his business as a builder and the couple enjoyed family life together, Karen loving to keep fit by going for long walks on the beach – her favourite place.
It was in the summer of last year that Karen first began to feel ill. Paul said: “Pancreatic cancer is called the ‘silent killer’ as the symptoms are so vague.
“Karen just had a bit of back pain. She was normally very healthy but the pain didn’t go away and then her stomach got really bloated.”
‘We came home in total shock’
She was sent her for an ultrasound at Lymington hospital and then on 31st of August the couple were give the awful news that Karen had pancreatic cancer.
Paul said: “Karen was only 48, just about to turn 49. Doctors said it was very rare that someone of her age would get pancreatic cancer.
“We came home in total shock. But from the beginning Karen said ‘I’m going to do everything 100% to beat this.’
“She started googling alternative diets and superfoods remaining as positive as she could.”
Further tests showed the tumour, which had not spread, was quite small but was located near major blood vessels so an operation to remove it was not possible.
Karen started three months of chemotherapy in November last year. Followed by another two bouts this year.
Through it all Karen insisted that family life be as normal as possible. Paige said: “That was really important to her, she wanted normality and she wanted us to be normal as well.
“She kept her diagnosis private, she didn’t want people to see her any differently. She never wanted anyone to fuss over her.”
Brad (24) said: “She would worry that if people knew they might treat her differently when she returned to work at school.”
‘She kept her diagnosis private’
Sadly Karen never got her wish to return to Arnewood. Paige said the family were hoping the treatment would work, adding: “You never really think that it’s going to happen to, to your mum. And you just kind of have this hope that something will work.”
All the family pulled together to support Karen throughout her months of treatment.
Paige said: “We’ve been with her every step of the way. All her appointments, all her treatment, one of us was there.”
Despite her ongoing treatment Karen was determined to enjoy life as much as she could. Last year Paul had been given a present from a friend for his 50th birthday to climb across the 02 in London.
He said: “I delayed it to August this year and Karen did it with me. She absolutely loved it, especially the breath-taking views from the dome.”
The couple also managed a weekend away for the couples’ 25th wedding anniversary and in October this year Karen’s family threw her a surprise 50th birthday at home.
Paige, who is a senior practitioner at a nature pre-school nursery, said: “We had about 40 people here, mum was so happy. I remember seeing her standing there chatting away with a cookie in one hand and a Danish pastry in the other.
“The superfood diet went out the window that day!”
Sadly just a couple of weeks later Karen was rushed into hospital again on Halloween.
Paige said: “We never left her after that.”
Paul said: “The nurses at Southampton General hospital were just phenomenal. They were so caring, supportive. They just go out of their way to help you as a family.”
‘As a mother she was just superb’
Since Karen’s death Paul said he has been “completely overwhelmed” by the support he has received from the footballing community revealing: “We played at Christchurch recently and they held a minutes’ silence for Karen. That was really nice but very emotional. I’ve received lots of comments from fans and other clubs, it helps.
“So many people have told me how Karen’s smile would light up a room and how beautiful she was. I was a very lucky man to have her as my wife, I never stopped thinking that the whole time we were married.
“And as a mother she was just superb.”
Speaking out in what is pancreatic cancer awareness month he urged people to be aware of the symptoms and to seek medical help if they are at all worried saying: “People often feel they don’t want to trouble their doctor, but they would rather you go to see them than ignore things.”
Karen’s funeral is being held at Bournemouth Crematorium on 5th December at 1pm followed by a wake at the Cliff House, Barton. The family say that everyone who knew Karen is welcome to attend.