Belfast Telegraph

Family raise thousands to install defibrillators as a tribute to gentleman Geoff

Geoff on his wedding day
Geoff on his wedding day
Jason and Jacqueline Atkinson
Pensioner Geoff Cartwright

By Claire O'Boyle

It was the tragedy that led a seaside town to become a community of lifesavers.

When news of pensioner Geoff Cartwright's death emerged last summer, the people of Newcastle were heartbroken.

The popular teacher, an Englishman who had made the coastal spot his home for almost 50 years, was knocked down and killed just yards from his house.

He had been out to his local for a pint and a game of pool with his brother Reggie, who was visiting from England.

Now, less than eight months on from the incident, as they continue to deal with their grief, Mr Cartwright's family has taken inspiration from the "kind, warm and community-spirited" grandfather to bring life-saving equipment to the town he loved.

Son-in-law Jason Atkinson, who is married to the master bricklayer's youngest daughter Jacqueline - the fifth of six children - led fundraising efforts on behalf of the family to buy and campaign for defibrillators to be fitted right through Newcastle and the surrounding area.

"Geoff was such a lovely man," said Jason (49). "In the 20 years I knew him I never heard him say a cross word. He loved it here and he was so well-liked that people we meet in shops and round the town are still, all these months later, talking about the fact he's gone.

"Geoff was very kind, he went out of his way to help people so we think something like this, which is going to help to save people's lives, is something he would have been all for.

"The only thing is, he wouldn't be one for lots of attention - he was very modest, so he'd probably give off if he knew it was all being done in his name."

The sudden nature of Mr Cartwright's death sent shockwaves through the town last year. The incident happened after 10.30pm on a Thursday night.

Father-of-two Jason, a taxi driver in the town, arrived at the scene at South Promenade in the harbour area of the town shortly after it happened.

"It was very upsetting," he said. "My wife had had a call to say her dad had fallen, so she rang me to go up and see him. But when I got there, of course it was so much worse. God bless the Newcastle lifeboat because they had been in the pubs nearby after a day's training, so they came out to try and save him.

"He was too badly injured though, and he died as he got to the doors of the hospital. We take it as a blessing though that they say he won't have suffered, he won't have felt the pain."

Geoff's wife Rosaleen, who was from the area, had passed away three years earlier. They had married in 1963.

An 18-year-old man was arrested after the incident on August 24 last year on suspicion of driving whilst unfit and causing death by dangerous driving.

The police are currently preparing a file for submission to the Public Prosecution Service.

Along with Geoff's son Barry and other members of the family, Jason and Jacqueline decided to do something positive in the months after the incident, and enlisted the help of Dan O'Reilly and the Newcastle Lions Club to make a big impact on the town.

"Everyone in the family was in such a terrible state of shock after what happened," he said.

"This has given us something to focus on. The reality is there's still no closure, and everyone is still very, deeply upset about it all so to do something like this has changed the focus a bit.

"Geoff was such a nice man, it's important to get a positive out of what happened.

"Defibrillators can be used by anyone, they can honestly, practically save lives, and the response from the town has been fantastic. We've raised almost £10,000, we've bought four defibrillators and given money to other charities as well.

"Businesses and individuals in the town have really got behind it and some have even bought their own so we'll have 10 in total in the area.

"We've achieved much more than we set out to do and we just want people to know they're here, and what to do if they ever need to use them. Geoff would be pleased and it's something we're happy to do in his name."

Dan O'Reilly outlined the benefits of a defibrillator.

"If people come upon someone having a heart attack, call the ambulance service for a code to the nearest defibrillator.

"It helps to be trained in CPR and using the equipment, and we are in the process of training up members of the community.

"However, they are fantastic machines and very straightforward to use. People should not be nervous.

"When operating one, the machine itself will issue instructions and they will not cause harm to the person in need.

"Be confident if you need to save a life. Defibrillators will make a huge difference in an emergency."

Locations of the life-saving equipment

Installed: Bonny's Caravan Park, Tullybrannigan Road; Sunnyholme Caravan Park, Castlewellan Road; AJC Electrics, Main Street.

Due soon: Base Coffee Shop, Main Street; Maken's Bar, South Promenade; The Barbican, Dundrum Road; The BonBon, Main Street; Newcastle Ambulance Station, Castlewellan Road; Maghera Inn, Maghera, and; Castlewellan Community Centre, Circular Road, Castlewellan.

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