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Tributes as 'clown doctor' Patrick Sanders who brought laughter to sick children dies suddenly

By Cate McCurry

A man who brought smiles to the faces of sick children in hospitals across Northern Ireland by dressing as a clown doctor, has died suddenly.

Patrick Sanders, who was known to families as Dr Jumbles, brought warmth and humour to children's hospital wards.

The 40-year-old from Portstewart was well-known for his work with the Northern Ireland Clown Doctors, particularly at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Dressed in colourful medical clothing, the children's performer brightened many young lives.

He also worked as a illustrator in children's arts and was given the Artists Career Enhancement Scheme (ACES) award for his talent.

Patrick, who married his partner Colin a number of years ago, was found dead on Monday.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland said that his work as a performer brought creativity and play into challenging hospital environments.

"He created shows for young audiences, including A Boy and His Box with (Belfast-based) Replay Theatre Company and the Nearly True Tours with Young at Art," a spokesman said.

"His interactive, live drawing show for children, Once Upon a Time, was chosen to represent work from Northern Ireland at the all-Ireland event in 2010 and the Belfast Children's Festival's All-Ireland Showcase in 2012.

"The show collected the award for Best Multi-Arts Project at the 2013 British Awards for Storytelling Excellence."

An online description of 'Dr Jumbles' describes how he entertained sick children with comical stories while "wearing all his favourite clothes at once".

"Dr Jumbles knows lots of stuff, but only has a tiny brain to keep it all in," it said.

"This means he gets a bit jumbled up in there, hence his favourite song: Baa Baa Black Sheep, Merrily down the Stream."

The well-respected illustrator, who was one of the founders of the Outburst queer arts festival, travelled across Europe with his live drawings.

Through his work with the Replay Theatre Company, he combined illustration and performance for young audiences.

"Patrick was warmly regarded by many in the sector. He was a well-respected collaborator on a wide range of arts projects and a familiar presence at live performances, which he would often illustrate in his inimitable style," the Arts Council spokesman continued.

"He was a cartoonist-in-residence at conferences, workshops, theatre rehearsals and focus groups, where his illustrations were used to generate further discussion.

"As a professional cartoonist, he was in demand around the UK and Ireland, and his work has been documented across Europe, including Germany and Switzerland."

Niall Bakewell, a close friend of Mr Sanders said he was an "artist, actor, activist and all-round genius".

"He brought warmth and humour to children going through hell in hospital in his work as a clown doctor," he said in an online tribute.

"He spoke out against medieval bigotry and oafishness, and used his exceptional artistic talent to imagine a more enlightened, united Northern Ireland.

"He was central to the grassroots arts scene in Belfast, and understood its importance as a breeding ground for protest and political transformation.

"He was also the most important curator of Doctor Who knowledge anyone could hope to meet, which probably means much more to me than you.

"Everyone has a duty to work harder to make this challenged and challenging little postage stamp of a statelet a fairer, cleaner, happier place, so that bright souls like Patrick aren't overwhelmed by the shadows it casts."

In a tribute from the Replay Theatre Company, it said that Mr Sanders was well-liked for his "good humour and huge talent".

"Patrick was a good friend, a talented artist and the perfect mix of mischievous fun and genuine caring," it added.

Mr Sanders also donated some of his artwork to the maternity ward at Altnagelvin Hospital, which includes the illustrated book entitled, Your Little Tiny Welcome To The Great Big Whole Wide World, which is often read by new parents attending the Londonderry hospital.

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