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'She had the ability to make everyone feel special' – tributes to former A&T commercial manager Alison Thomas

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REMEMBERED as one of life’s “genuinely lovely people”, former A&T commercial development manager Alison Thomas has died from cancer just days after her 48th birthday.

Hugely well-known and respected in the newspaper and publishing industry, Ali joined the A&T in 2016 and quickly became an integral part of the business.

As well as being a familiar face at the New Forest Show, where she and her team promoted the publication each year, Ali also became an inspiration to many as she bravely underwent treatments following her diagnosis with incurable bowel cancer last May.

Alison with husband Rob, daughter Sophia and step-daughter Millie
Alison with husband Rob, daughter Sophia and step-daughter Millie

In May this year she was invited to jointly open Hamwic House at University Hospital Southampton (UHS), a brand new £9m oncology facility for consultant appointments, blood tests, PICC line fittings and chemotherapy treatment.

Former A&T managing director Eddie Curry said: “The best day’s work I ever did was to recruit Alison. However, it was not a difficult decision as so many people had said to me that we should grasp the opportunity to employ her as she would ‘click’ with us.

“She certainly did, understanding our ethos and being an excellent commercial leader and team builder, winning the respect of all the staff.

“Much more than that, she became one of my best friends – I know that she was a best friend to so many other people too. She had the ability to make everyone feel special.”

Prior to joining the A&T, Ali worked at the Southern Daily Echo in a number of management roles including as head of classified advertising and display sales manager.

Her husband Rob said: “Ali spent her whole life in publishing – she just loved the job. Her first job was even in a newsagents and then she worked for Auto Trader canvassing in the evenings before joining the Echo full-time when she was 19.”

Longstanding colleague and friend Driss Ahraoui, who worked with Ali at both the Daily Echo and the A&T, said: “Friendships come in many different forms and truly special ones do not come along very often.

“Ali was one of those people who helped so many and so selflessly. It was a privilege to have worked with her and more importantly to have been friends with one of those very rare, genuine and special people who will live on in all of our hearts and memories.”

Her friend Carol Shears, who also joined the A&T team around the same time as Ali, added: “As a manager she was just the best; she gave me confidence and always supported me. As a friend she was absolutely amazing. She was always there for me and and we had so many fun times. Ali was one of life’s most genuine people. She will be greatly missed by so many.”

Outside of work Ali was a devoted mum to daughter Sophia (9) and stepdaughter Millie (18).

Ali faced her treatment with "strength, determination, positivity, charm and style"
Ali faced her treatment with "strength, determination, positivity, charm and style"

Rob said: “Ali poured her heart and soul into being a mum – her family meant everything to her. She was incredibly close to her parents and her brother Rob and his family as well.

“Sophia is already demonstrating so many of her mum’s character traits – she was just the most amazing role model to her.”

Despite being a nervous flyer Ali loved travelling and refused to let her fear hold her back, enjoying many happy holidays in Ibiza, Italy and the south of France.

Following their 2009 wedding at Lainston House in Winchester, Rob and Ali shared an incredible three-week honeymoon visiting the South of France and Italy. Rob said: “In true Ali style she had researched it all and planned everything down to the last detail. It was the most amazing trip – we stayed in some of the most incredible slightly off-the-beaten track places.”

After feeling unwell in late 2019, Ali visited her doctor and was referred for a scan in March 2020. However, the first Covid-19 lockdown delayed her appointment until April, and following further tests the family received the devastating news that Ali had stage four bowel cancer in May.

Rob said: “Despite the pandemic, the treatment and care that Ali received from University Southampton Hospitals was absolutely unbelievable – we really could not have asked for any more.

“Ali never had a single appointment cancelled and the treatments she received in the early days were kind to her in terms of side effects, which enabled her to continue living life to the full.”

Early this year Ali and Rob enjoyed a road trip around the UK spending precious time with friends and family. Rob said: “Ali made friends wherever she went. She had an incredible ability to relate to people and make them feel special. I know that many people consider Ali one of their best friends.”

When Rob signed up to walk 100km along the south coast in 24 hours in aid of Cancer Research in May this year, Ali was incredibly proud. “Despite being in the midst of her own treatment she was my biggest supporter and was so proud we managed to raise £23,000,” said Rob.

Chemotherapy treatment continued to give Ali precious time with her family throughout the summer, but sadly in early September it stopped being effective.

Determined as ever, Ali set her sights on celebrating her stepdaughter Millie’s 18th birthday on 12th September, and six days later her own birthday on 18th September with a family meal at the Noisy Lobster in Mudeford, one of her favourite places.

Ali died on 24th September at the Countess Mountbatten Hospice in Southampton. Rob said: “The last 18 months have been brutal to our family and have undoubtedly taken a toll. Yet throughout it all, Ali faced it head-on with strength, determination, positivity, charm and style. Which, let’s face it, is how Ali dealt with everything.”

Ali’s funeral will take place at Southampton Crematorium East Chapel at 1pm on Tuesday 12th October. Anyone wishing to donate in her memory can give to Southampton Hospital Charity.

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