FAMILY and friends of a “larger than life” Christchurch man have been left heartbroken after he is thought to have died in his sleep aged just 44.
Stuart Hills was found dead in his bed at his home in Hunt Road, on the Somerford estate, by a friend after he failed to pick up his six-year-old son Logan from school last Thursday.
His devastated daughter Bethany (23) said: “Logan’s mum Emma went to my dad’s house as he would never have missed getting Logan. Both his vehicles were on the drive, but he wasn’t answering the door.
“A friend broke in and found my dad. It seems he died peacefully in his sleep, which is a great comfort for us, but we are of course totally devastated.”
There has been an outpouring of tributes and condolences to Stuart’s family on social media which Bethany said had helped “immensely” in their grief.
The family are now fundraising to erect a bench near Hunt Road in his memory on the estate where he lived all his life.
Bethany said: “It has been completely overwhelming, there has been so much love expressed for him.
“He would be absolutely chuffed to see it all.”
Bethany described her father, a self-employed gas and heating engineer, as a “larger than life character” who always had time for everybody.
She said: “If he stopped to talk to someone we would be there at least 45 minutes. Everyone knew him. He was like a local celebrity. Everyone would smile and wave at him.
“He was a very caring man and would do anything for anyone. He would take young people under his wing who other people would consider a write-off.
“Even during lockdown he was out delivering meat parcels and doing anything he could for anyone.”
She said her father “loved a laugh” – including painting the driver’s door of his work van so it looked like he was sitting on a toilet when behind the wheel.
Bethany said: “That was typical him. When he got it done, he was like a kid at Christmas. I told him ‘Don’t you dare ever pick me up in it!’
“His van was famous in Christchurch.”
As well as the fundraising webpage for the bench, there is also one to raise money for his children who Bethany said “were his life”, adding: “He was the most amazing father. We wanted for nothing. He gave us everything.
“I am finding it so hard to believe he is not here anymore. I had to go to his house over the last few days and it was like he had just gone on holiday and had asked me to pop round to make sure everything was okay.”
Stores and businesses in Christchurch are also collecting donations in Stuart’s name for two of his favourite charities, including one researching into the heart condition cardiomyopathy.
Bethany said: “Dad climbed to first base on Everest to raise money for a friend who has the condition. He was very fit and healthy which is why his death has come as such a shock.”
Stuart’s mother Chris posted a message on social media, saying: “I am overwhelmed with all the love that everyone has shown for Stuart.
“The bench is a brilliant idea that he would have loved. He would think he was king!”
BCP councillor Simon McCormack told the A&T: “Stuart Hills was a dedicated and popular member of the Somerford community who will be truly missed by everyone that knew him.
“A group of friends and family have done a brilliant job of raising over a thousand pounds for a memorial bench and we hope to have this installed on the estate.”