SITTING in a hospital bed wearing his characteristic huge furry hat, Dave Rhodes spent his last days entertaining medics with tales of his life and singing a few tunes.
Known as Furry Dave, he was a legendary figure in Lymington where he spent most of his days chatting to passers-by and singing his favourite song, Lemon Tree, accompanying himself with a guitar – perpetually clad in a furry hat and coat even in the height of summer.
Dave died at the end of July and the news triggered a wave of tributes on social media along with memories and stories about him.
The Rev. Steve Weatherly-Barton of Gosberton Baptist Church, Lincolnshire, spent time with Dave as he lived out his last days in Johnson Community Hospital in Spalding.
He had returned to the town where he had many happy memories and had once even had a house in a nearby village for a short time, before it burned down.
Mr Weatherly-Barton, who is chaplain for the hospital, told the A&T how he met Dave in July after a member of staff told him: “We’ve got a right character here.”
He said: “He was such fun and a very interesting man. He told me lots of stories but very little about his actual self. He had been told by a doctor that he did not have long to live, he had cancer, but he accepted it well and died very peacefully.
“When I posted about his death on social media, I had tributes to him pour in from all over the country.
“I officiated at his funeral and managed to find out more about Dave there. He was apparently born in Kent and had had a house in Moulton Chapel near Spalding at one time. But it burned down and after that he took to the road.”
Mr Weatherly-Barton said he was contacted after the funeral by a distant relative of Dave’s in Somerset who said his family had not seen him since the 1990s.
The reverend said he believed that one reason why Dave took to the road may have been due to a lost love.
He said: “He loved to sing the song The Lemon Tree which is a bittersweet love song. It occurred to me that this might have happened to Dave, that he had fallen in love with someone and it had gone wrong. He wouldn’t talk about his early life at all, but I felt the song was a clue.”
Videos of Dave singing the song have been posted on YouTube. In Lymington and surrounding areas he was fondly remembered by many, such as Jennie Russell who helped him get medical treatment.
She said: “I met Dave in 2018. He arrived full of hope and trust that the treatment would cure him. He adapted well to being indoors for three months and kept his possessions nearby.
“Those that met him know what he travelled around with: shopping trolley suitcase and lots of cardboard. Efforts were made to try to persuade him to go into permanent housing, but he would have none of it.
“He returned to Lymington equipped with a tent and sleeping bag, bought by one of his doctors, then relocated to Totton where he took up residence in a bus stop, and was fairly spoilt by the locals who fed him very well with pizza, takeaways, bottles of water, and snacks.
“He was readmitted to hospital for a while and one day went to a charity shop and arrived back in a ladies skirt over his hospital pyjamas, and a long blonde wig. He was always making us laugh.”
Jennie said Dave told her he lived the way he did because of a house fire in which he lost someone very close. He also told he had been an only child, his dad dying in 1985.
Jane Ashmore said of Dave: “He was very interesting and often used to give my dog a sausage or piece of bacon from the stall by St Thomas’s Church where he was always to be found on a Saturday.”
Dave’s love of classic cars often saw him visit the autojumble in Beaulieu, even though he did not have a car himself.
Toby Sears told the A&T: “Always in his fur coat we had long chats with him on our stall discussing cars and parts. He was always polite and talked about his bicycles he was restoring. He clearly loved the event.”
Jill Kearl always used to treat Dave to a bacon roll from Shelley’s Snacks van on market day – only to find out lots of people did exactly the same thing.
Dave once put a message in the A&T thanking people for buying him food, and another to the people of New Milton for giving him Christmas presents.
Dave could be confrontational and difficult, however. He was given a restraining order after a bust-up in Beaulieu with a woman at the gates of a school. He also had several rows with other people during his time on the streets in Lymington, Totton and Beaulieu.
But as Lymington resident Carol Richards pointed out: “Mental health can take many forms. I am pleased he was on home ground for his final hours, bless his soul now at rest.”