In 2015, people fleeing from war, oppression and poverty were drowning in their hundreds as they attempted to cross oceans to European shores. The atmosphere in the UK was hostile, with politicians and media fanning fears of migrants. My friend Suzi Hearn, who has died aged 71 of cancer, responded by starting the charity Blandford Cares, to collect aid for refugees, and also help local homeless and disadvantaged people.
A retired teacher who had championed refugees all her adult life, Suzi began the initiative following a family dinner where the crisis was discussed. Five days later she, her husband, Mike, and son, Jason, were in Calais with a van full of camping equipment.
Since then dozens of van-loads of necessities have been sorted and redistributed to Europe and beyond from two large, draughty rooms in the United Reformed Church in Blandford Forum, Dorset. Tents dumped by festival-goers are collected, cleaned and repacked for Calais along with boxer shorts, socks and condoms. Clothes for children and women are sent to the Greek camps and sewing machines to African countries to start micro-businesses.
Born in Sidmouth, Devon, to Mike Gormley, an aeronautical engineer, and his wife, Alma (nee Hadley), Suzi attended La Retraite convent school in Bristol. She met her future husband, Mike Hearn, as they were both doing paper rounds.
Following school she started a secretarial course, but abandoned it because of “inequality and sexism”. Instead she left for Paris in 1967, to study for a diploma at the Sorbonne, supporting herself by working as an au pair. The course finished in 1969, and she married Mike, then a pilot in the RAF, the same year. Jason was born in 1969 and a daughter, Sara, two years later.
While Mike was stationed in Lincolnshire (1979-80), Suzi gained qualifications in adult and further education from Lincoln further education college. It was here that she had her first experience of working with refugees, teaching English to Vietnamese “boat people”. In 1980 she gained a PGCE from Nottingham Trent Polytechnic.
By this time she had added German and Spanish to her qualifications and in 1989 became head of languages at the Village Community school, Derby, where she also worked with Bosnian refugee and Gypsy families. She stayed there until 2001, when she left to start a successful market gardening business.
The Hearns retired to Dorset in 2012. Not content with running their charity, last year they bought another house in Blandford for a refugee family.
Suzi is survived by Mike, Jason and Sara, and two grandchildren.