Ex-RAF man’s challenge fiancée’s memory

NAKP 1408143AM5 Marathon runner Lawrence Harris. Picture : Adrian Murray.(1408143AM5)
NAKP 1408143AM5 Marathon runner Lawrence Harris. Picture : Adrian Murray.(1408143AM5)

A Knaresborough dad will run the New York Marathon to raise funds for charity after facing the heartbreak of losing his partner to cancer.

Ex-RAF Sergeant Lawrence Harris, known to friends as Loz, will pound the pavements in the world’s biggest marathon this November to raise money for Saint Michael’s Hospice in Harrogate, where his fiancée Julie Wells died in 2009.

Lawrence and Julie on holiday in 2008

Lawrence and Julie on holiday in 2008

“I didn’t think I would have to go through this once in my life, never mind twice,” said Lawrence who lost his fiancée to cancer, just seven years after his first wife died of the disease.

Lawrence and Julie, a hairdresser also from Knaresborough, had been a couple for three years when she died aged 39 after a short battle with skin cancer.

The mum of three had previously beaten the illness several years earlier, however the melanoma returned and she was diagnosed in February 2009 and died four months later.

Lawrence returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in February 2009 and learned of his partner’s illness.

“When I came back from Iraq she said she hadn’t been feeling well and she went to hospital.

“She hadn’t wanted to worry me about it when I was away. She had beaten cancer before, years before we met, she had the melanoma cut out so we were told there was less than a million in one chance of it coming back.”

Within three months of Julie’s diagnosis she had moved to Saint Michael’s Hospice where she spent the final two weeks of her life surrounded by family and friends.

Lawrence was left facing life without his partner for the second time, having lost his first wife Katherine Harris to cancer in 2002.

“I just didn’t even consider that Julie would die, I just thought it couldn’t happen again.

“I thought she would pull through, but it was so aggressive. It took a few months.”

The pair had been planning to get married in Edinburgh in the summer of 2009, just a few months after Julie died.

“We talked about the wedding a lot towards the end,” said Lawrence, “It was quite hard, there were a lot of tears. We were going to get married at Edinburgh Castle, we loved Edinburgh, we went there a lot and I proposed to her there.”

He added: “She was the love of my life, she was perfect. She was my best friend and inspiration, we did everything together. Julie had her three children, Harry, Alfie and Holly, and I had my daughter Chelsea, now 21, and we all just came together as one big fun happy family.”

Lawrence has praised Saint Michael’s Hospice for the care Julie received at the end of her life.

He said: “With my first wife, I looked after her at home at the end, it was very different.”

The couple lived at RAF Wittering in Lincolnshire when Katherine was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2000 and she passed away two years later.

Lawrence was serving with the No 3(F) Fighter Sqn at the time. “I was working full time and Chelsea was young, I had to get up, look after Katherine, get Chelsea off to school then go to work - it was hard but I had the support of the RAF family there.”

Lawrence said the hospice care Julie received at Saint Michael’s allowed the family a chance to say their good byes.

“At Saint Michael’s they sorted her pain relief in a day, she was happy she was there. Everyone knew she was in the best place.

“In the hospital, you are on a ward with other people, it is busy, there isn’t the same privacy. At Saint Michael’s you’ve got a beautiful setting, it’s a peaceful place and the nurses were just fantastic.”

Lawrence left the RAF in March after a distinguished 24 year career where he toured Iraq, Afghanistan three times, Northern Ireland and the Falklands.

He said: “I’ve got all the lads I know to sponsor me, they are all supporting me.”

Lawrence has been training for the marathon with 18 mile runs, though it isn’t his first charity challenge for the hospice, last year he was part of a team who trekked to Everest base camp.

The thirteen determined trekkers battled some of the worst snow in ten years on the mountain and raised over £40,000.

Each year Saint Michael’s Hospice supports over 2000 people on the Harrogate and Ripon district each year, and have to raise £4.4million in charitable donations.

Chief executive of Saint Michael’s Tony Collins said: “Lawrence’s efforts to support Saint Michael’s are truly remarkable.

“Not only has he inspired people to donate to the charity, raising more the £7000 through his physical feats to date, but he has also raised understanding and awareness of the difference Saint Michael’s makes.”

l Donate at {www.justgiving.com/LawrenceHarrisNYM |www.justgiving.com/LawrenceHarrisNYM| www.justgiving.com/LawrenceHarrisNYM}