Poignant memories at Oakgrove, Foyle College and St. Joseph's as students pay tribute to former pupil Lee Gurney

A year ago this week Lee Gurney died suddenly after collapsing at his home in Bready.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 6:48 pm
Mrs Katrina Crilly (Principal) presenting Lee’s mum Jacqueline Gurney with Lee's Oakgrove Leavers Hoodie at Oakgrove Integrated College on Monday. Included are sixth form students and members of staff. On right also are Lee’s dad Derek, brothers Jay and Cain, and family friend Melanie Toland. (Photos: Jim McCafferty Photography)

Lee was a much-loved Year 13 student at Oakgrove Integrated College and was preparing for his A Levels when he passed away.

It was a total shock to his many friends, teachers and fellow students at Oakgrove but also at Foyle College and St Joseph’s Boys’ School where he attended lessons.

Students at his home school decided to mark the first anniversary of his passing by inviting Lee’s parents and family to the school on Monday where they handed over the Sixth Form hoodie they had made for Lee, some written reflections and memories of Lee that celebrated his time among them.

Mrs Katrina Crilly, Principal, Oakgrove Integrated College, presenting Jacqueline Gurney with Lee's Oakgrove Leavers Hoodie during Monday’s event.

Lee’s mum Jacqueline, dad Derek and brothers Jay, Kian and Zach heard Mr. John Harkin, Oakgrove Vice Principal, pay tribute to Lee, describing him as a popular student, liked by all and dedicated to achieving high grades in his ‘A’ Levels.

Mr. Harkin said: "Lee’s was a joyful life which will always inspire us. As skies darken this afternoon, sixth form students pause from lessons to reflect on the light and life of a classmate Lee Gurney who died suddenly one year ago.

"Although the mood is sombre, the memories of Lee were all of a life of joy, friendship and humour."

Mr Colin Donaghey (Year Head) presenting Jacqueline Gurney with a bouquet of flowers with reflections and messages attached during Monday’s event at the school to remember her late son Lee. (Photos: Jim McCafferty Photography)

Mr. Harkin reminded those in attendance of the events a year ago and how steadfast students were in showing their respects and standing with their fellow student’s family at such a sad time.

"Limited by Covid-19 restrictions just as they were a year ago, our students still wanted to pay their respects and show solidarity with Lee’s family who, today, have come to the school to join us in this time of reflection."

To mark the occasion, each student wrote memories of Lee, tied them to an individual rose and held them up to show Lee’s family. The family were then presented with a matching set of memories, and Lee’s Oakgrove leavers’ hoody on which his name was printed alongside all of the class of 2021.

Mr. Harkin said: "This is a day of sadness as we gather to remember Lee. There is not a day of this past year when we haven’t thought about him."

Friends Eva Wright, Sam Cole, Aajon Tench pictured during Monday’s tribute, with Head Boy Conor Brattin and Head Girl Emily Brown.

Addressing the sixth form students, he concluded: "But in the memories you share of Lee with his family, there is one thing which stands out - Lee’s love of life, his joy, his kindness, and his humour. We must hold on to these qualities, even amid our sadness, and we must continue to look out for each other."

After Monday’s ‘time of reflection,’ the roses were placed on Lee’s grave ahead of his anniversary which fell on Tuesday.

Principal Katrina Crilly said: "One year on we are still devastated to have lost Lee. Lee and his siblings have been part of the Oakgrove family for many years and losing him has left a huge gap.

"Lee was such a gentleman who had so much to give. He had an unbelievable work ethic and attitude. He was so kind to the younger pupils and became such a role model for them. We feel very privileged to have had the time that Lee spent with us. He has a special place in our heart and will always be fondly remembered in the three schools he attended."

Lee’s Head of Year, Mr. Colin Donaghey said: "Today was about remembering with fondness, Lee's life, and reflecting on how his passing has impacted so many. By giving everyone the time to write down their memories and stories about Lee, this has helped our students express their thoughts and feelings whilst also providing some great stories, funny moments and true reflections for Lee's family to read through.

"We only hope that these messages will help bring some comfort, knowing that Lee was loved in Oakgrove, having brought happiness and friendship to so many. I knew Lee and his family from his time in Oakgrove Integrated Primary School.

"Having sat beside my daughter for quite a lot of his seven years there, we got to hear all the craic with Lee; most of it was about cars and rallying, which was Lee's passion from such an early age.

"Lee attended Foyle College after primary and successfully achieved good GCSE results. He joined us at Oakgrove College for his A-Levels and knew exactly what he wanted to study. His excellent AS-Level results were a tribute to the interest he had in his subjects, his work ethic and his determination to succeed.

"His love of engineering and technology was driven by his love of cars, having worked with his dad and brothers in their garage at home for so many years, and rallying in his spare time. He fitted in so well at Oakgrove and managed his A-Level studies with ease, even though he was collaborating with other schools to study the subjects he loved."

Mr. Donaghey summed up how much the popular student is and will be missed.

"Lee was a gentle soul who took everything in his stride. He had a great sense of humour and enjoyed making people laugh. He was surrounded by a loving family and good friends, all of whom have, and will continue to miss him so much. Our thoughts are with his family on the anniversary of his passing."

In thanking the school for their beautiful tribute, Lee’s mum said: "Today was just beautiful. Especially this week which is Lee’s first anniversary. We are all very touched by the sentiments from Lee’s friends and as a family we are very appreciative of the school for their kind and continued support. Lee would be very proud."