Rugby club's mammoth fundraising tribute to beloved Halifax dad-of-three who died suddenly at 42

Thousands of pounds have been raised in memory of a 42-year-old Halifax man described as 'the best dad in the world'.

By sarah fitton
Monday, 14th March 2022, 2:41 pm
Updated Monday, 14th March 2022, 2:44 pm

Father-of three Lee Hunter died after a sudden cardiac arrest at home, just after putting his daughters to bed.

Rugby club West Bowling ARLFC, where Lee used to play, have been fundraising in his honour in aid of the British Heart Foundation.

Lee had to give up rugby when he was 25 after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy - a rare heart condition which was caused by a viral infection and led to inflammation of his heart muscle, making it harder for his heart to pump blood around his body.

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Lee Hunter with his three daughters and fiancée Carly-Jo Miller.

He took medication to control his condition and was able to live an active and healthy lifestyle, such as taking up cycling, which became a huge passion of his.

But in July 2018, Lee had a sudden cardiac arrest at home. A relative who lived nearby rushed to Lee’s aid and started CPR, before calling 999. Ambulance crews arrived to take Lee to Leeds General Infirmary - the same hospital where he worked as an estates manager.

There was nothing that could be done to save Lee and he passed away. He leaves daughters 14-year-old Lola, seven-year-old Poppy and four-year-old Indie, and fiancée Carly-Jo Miller.

“It was all so surreal," said Carly, 38. "I’ve blocked out most of what happened.

Lee with his three daughters

"At the hospital they wanted to take me to a side room to tell me the news - being a nurse I have been the side of giving that news and it terrified me.

"I then had to tell the girls what had happened, which was the hardest part.

“Lee was the best dad in the world. Only the week before his death he had taught Poppy how to ride a bike without stabilisers, which was such a proud moment for him.

"We still feel like Lee is a part of us – the girls even have teddy bears sprayed with Lee’s favourite aftershave so they can remember him when times get tough.”

Lee with his fiancée Carly-Jo

Following his death, Lee’s family received huge support from their friends, relatives, and the wider community, including from West Bowling ARLFC.

Paul Robertson, a committee member at the club and close friend of Lee’s, came up with the idea to hold an annual event in the much-loved dad's memory.

In August 2019, the club threw an under 40s v over 40s rugby match, with players consisting of Lee’s former teammates and long-term friends. The day included a raffle, which received support from local businesses and former players who donated signed shirts. In total, the day raised £2,000 for the British Heart Foundation.

In May 2021, the club held their second memorial event for Lee - another under 40s v over 40s rugby match held before the club’s first team match with Bradford Dudley Hill.

West Bowling ARLFC and family of Lee Hunter present the British Heart Foundation with a cheque for their most recent fundraising event, which raised £3,500. Pictured from left to right; The charity's mascot Mr Hearty, Paul Robertson, Carly-Jo Miller, Poppy Hunter, Indie Hunter, Ellie Barker and Dave Brook. Photograph taken by Lisa Camden.

Around 1,000 people turned up to the event, which included another raffle with prizes including the shirt of former player Stuart Reardon from when the Bradford Bulls won the 2003 Super League Grand Final.

The day raised £7,000 in total, with the money split between the British Heart Foundation and a trust fund for Lee’s three daughters.

The club will hold their third event on July 23 at Horsfall Stadium.

Dave Brook, treasurer of West Bowling ARLFC, said: “After Lee’s passing, the decision was made by a group of former team mates to keep his memory at the forefront of people’s minds with an annual event.

“Lee was always the life and soul of the party who always loved to showcase his dance moves, so we felt holding a gala day was a fitting tribute to him.

“Raising money for the British Heart Foundation seemed the logical decision because of Lee’s experience with a heart condition. Both events were a huge success, and we know Lee would have been so happy to know that the money we have raised will help others affected by these conditions.”

The funds raised will go towards the the charity's life-saving research into heart and circulatory conditions, including diseases like cardiomyopathy.

Ellie Barker, British Heart Foundation's Fundraising Manager, said: “We are so grateful that West Bowling ARLFC decided to hold their touching memorial events for Lee in aid of the British Heart Foundation and we can’t wait to work with them more in the future.

“For more than 60 years, the public’s generosity has funded BHF research that has turned ideas that once seemed like 'science fiction' into treatments and cures that save lives every day. But millions of people are still waiting for the next breakthrough.

“It is only with donations from organisations like West Bowling ARLFC that we can keep our research going and discover the treatments and cures of the future. We now urgently need more support and would encourage people in West Yorkshire to get in touch with us to find out how they can help.”

Anyone interested in fundraising for the charity can contact Ellie Barker by emailing [email protected] or calling 07823 354098.