“IF I give a little piece of my life mammy, will it bring daddy back?”
Those were the words of heartbroken little Mia Brown, just seven, as she tried to come to terms with the shock death of her beloved dad Gary Brown.
Gary – who was well known in the town’s footballing fraternity – was just 44-years-old when he collapsed and died at his home in Rydal Street, off Elwick Road, Hartlepool, on Sunday last week.
Today his partner of nine years Emma Race told the Mail that his five daughters are struggling to accept that they will never see him again.
But she said it is the youngest two, Mia and Lucy, aged six, who don’t understand the concept “forever”.
Emma, 40, choked back the tears, saying: “The kids are absolutely devastated, especially the older ones. There isn’t even a word to describe it.
“The two little ones are very young and they don’t understand forever. They don’t understand that they will never see him again because they’re so young.
“They say things that just rip out my heart. Mia said, ‘if I give a little piece of my life mammy, will it bring daddy back?’”
She added: “I want them to remember him because I can’t really remember when I was six or seven, and I’m determined that they don’t forget him.
“He absolutely adored them more than anything else. It’s really hard not to cave in. I could just crawl into a hole, but I can’t for the little ones.”
Sunderland FC fan Gary, a self-employed joiner, was assistant manager and goalkeeper at the Iona Social Club football team before he retired four years ago due to knee injuries, on which he had four operations and ended up with crutches.
The crutches gave him back problems and he underwent surgery on his spine at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, on Tuesday last week.
He was released on Friday and appeared to be recovering well and went to watch the Sunderland match with Liverpool at the home of his salesman brother Andrew, 47, last Sunday.
Dad-of-two Andrew, manager of the 3 Lions Sportsbar football club, said: “He’d been to drop my mam off home and when he was coming back through the gate he collapsed a bit and was panting.
“He pulled himself round and then went home.
“Then I got a phone call about 7.40pm saying that he’d collapsed and was dead. I went round as fast as I could, but he was gone. The paramedics had done all they could.”
Married Andrew, of Dodsworth Walk, who is married to Karen, 45, added: “I just couldn’t believe it. We were really close and I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Andrew described his younger brother, a former Henry Smiths School pupil, as “one of the nicest people you could meet”.
He said: “If you saw him in the street you’d be there for ages talking to him. He seemed to know everybody, and everybody liked him.
“He loved his football but most of all he loved his kids, the kids meant the world to him. He took Emma’s three girls on as his own as well. He loved them all more than anything.”
Gary met Emma nine years ago and became step-dad to her three daughters from a previous relationship, mum-of one Laura Race, 23, Ellie Race, 14, and Amy Race, 13.
The pair then went on to have Mia and Lucy.
Gary, who was son of the late Ted Brown who died 30 years ago, also leaves behind his sister Jill Mowbray, 45, and mum Barbara Tate, 68.
His funeral is being held at All Saints Church, Stranton, on Thursday, where many of Gary’s friends – several of whom are Newcastle United fans – will be wearing red and white striped ties as a mark of respect for the Black Cats supporter.
There was also to be a minutes applause at the 3 Lions Sportsbar against Engineers Athletic match, at Dodds Field, in Seaton, on Sunday, and also at The Rec, off Kingsley Avenue, Hartlepool.
A Facebook page has been set up in Gary’s memory – called In Loving Memory of Gary Brown – where people are welcome to leave comments and pictures of him.