A HEARTBROKEN mum paid tribute to her son as she was joined by more than 800 mourners to say a tearful farewell.
Brave Jan Bushnall described herself as “The proudest, most heartbroken mother in the world” in a floral tribute to her son Rhys Hewitt.
The message, which was placed on a flowers as the 14-year-old’s coffin was carried into church, read: “To my beautiful, wonderful son. I will miss your cheeky gorgeous face every day. From the proudest, most heartbroken mother in the world.”
But while Jan’s grief has been private since her son lost his life after an accident in Brenda Road earlier this month, there was an outpouring of public sorrow during an emotional send-off at St Patrick’s Church, in Owton Manor Lane.
Shoppers and traders stood with heads bowed outside the parade of shops opposite the church, while students from nearby Manor College of Technology lined the road outside their school as the hearse carrying Rhys edged towards the service.
Around 600 mourners filled the church, with more than 200 others having to listen to the service being broadcast into an adjacent hall, such was the volume of people wanting to pay tribute to the much-loved English Martyrs pupil.
Rhys’s dad Marty, and sisters Jasmine, 21, and 18-year-old Sophie sat alongside his mum while rows were reserved for English Martyrs classmates and teachers, representatives of other town schools and the football community.
“I’ve spent time at Rhys’s home in Seaton Carew over the last few days,” Father Jim Angus told the congregation. “There are lots of photographs in the house, and on all of those photographs Rhys is smiling.
“There’s a lovely photo of Rhys and his mam. She is laughing, and he has a cheeky grin on his face as he’s obviously just told a joke.
“So as hard as today is, don’t be afraid to smile.”
Fr Angus brought smiles to the pews when he cracked one of Rhys’s favourite jokes, and spoke of his love of football, music - and food.
“His dad told me he supported Liverpool for a couple of years, under the influence of his uncle Neil, but he soon saw the light and supported Hartlepool and Newcastle.
“I was with the family when a lovely bouquet of flowers arrived from Newcastle United.
“He loved his music too, particularly Oasis.
“And he loved his food too. Pizza Hut and Valentino’s were particular favourites. I’ve been told that he moved to a downstairs bedroom at home, and one night his mum heard a commotion.
“Rhys was getting a pizza delivered through the window. Valentino’s actually sent flowers!”
While those stories raised smiles, there were tears throughout the service from the moment Rhys’s white coffin was carried into the church with Oasis hit Champagne Supernova playing.
Fr Angus said: “We have gathered to say goodbye to a lovely, lovely young man and the amount of people here shows just how many of our lives Rhys touched.
“I drove down Brenda Road and saw the flowers, I’ve never seen tributes like it.
“I only got to meet Rhys at the very end of his life, but I have learned a lot about him.
“He was very highly intelligent, a really clever lad who excelled in maths and was so competitive that he used to have a rivalry with his friend Josh to see who could get the best marks.
“He had a passion for FIFA too, the computer game. I’m told he always used to beat Jack, so sorry Jack.
“He was a young man of principles who stood up for what he believed in. That takes courage, he fought for what he thought was right.”
Rhys’s team-mates from Pools Youth FC formed a guard of honour as their pal’s coffin was carried into church, and they were given a mention during a touching tribute from the priest.
“Rhys played for the local team, but they’ve not been doing very well of late.
“But the match after Rhys died, they won. They felt as though they had a 12th man.
“Well lads, Rhys will be able to put a word in for you now.”
Four of his friends - one wearing a football strip with ‘Hewitt 14’ on the back - each read prayers while mourners sang hymns Eagles Wings and Love Is Something If You Give It Away, before filing out to Shine Jesus Shine.
There were more tears outside as friends and family hugged before heading off for a burial at Stranton Cemetery and then on to a celebration of his life at the Sports Domes.
But in the words of Rhys’s favourite band Oasis, his memory will Live Forever.
* TEAM mates’ tribute to Rhys: Page 19