Tribute to Kenneth MacDonald

 

It was to have been a dream holiday for the family. A combined birthday treat for his wife, Sheila, and 12 year old daughter, Charlotte.

‘We’d had a week in San Francisco before flying on to Hawaii where we would spend ten days then fly back to California for a few days there. It was to be our dream holiday of a lifetime’. Sheila MacDonald is sitting at a large table in the kitchen of the home she once shared with husband Kenneth, who died last August. ‘Seven and a half months ago’ she reminds me, I sense she is still counting the days.

Photographs of Ken and their two children cover the walls. It is a warm, comfortable house. A new puppy plays at our feet, making herself known by continually biting on a doggy toy which squeals and squeaks..

Ken, who for 15 years played Mike, the affable landlord of the Nag’s Head pub, in the legendary BBC series ‘Only Fools and Horses’, suffered a massive heart attack while on holiday in Hawaii, last summer. He was 50 years old.

‘We’d had two days in Hawaii – starting off in Waikiki Beach doing the tourist bit, we had been planning to visit two smaller islands. It was to be a real island hopping holiday. Something we had wanted to do for ages – Ken wanted to wait until the kids were old enough to enjoy it too’. Laughing softly, she described how on their first day, Ken serenaded the Japanese tourists with the theme song from ‘Hawaii 5-0’. Her face softens at the precious memories. She had no inkling that 24 hours later, she would be a widow.

The next night, following dinner, Ken complained of feeling unwell and by the time they had walked back to their apartment he was feeling worse. ‘I really don’t feel very well’ were the last words he spoke to her.

Because Ken had suffered from acid indigestion for years they assumed it was indigestion. The children switched on the television and Ken sat down clutching at his chest. Suddenly he went into a massive heart attack but still Will and Charlotte thought the gagging noises he was making was just ‘Dad mucking about’. But within seconds it became evident this was no joke. Charlotte tried in vain to reach reception by phone before running for help while Sheila and Will performed CPR on Ken. ‘I’m a trained Life Guard so I knew what to do - I just never dreamed I would have to use CPR on my own husband’.

She stares ahead. ‘Ken was ... it was just awful. We couldn’t find a pulse ... it was so awful ... he was making bad noises ... I suspect that is the moment the heart stopped ....’

Although she sounds calm her eyes are frantic. ‘When the ambulance arrived they took him away. They didn’t say anything. ’ Her fingers are never still. ‘We followed the ambulance and within half hour they came out and said he had died. It was just after midnight.’ adding ‘I told everyone that he died on the 5th but it was after midnight so he died Aug 6.’

They were the furthest from home they had ever been. ‘We’d never left Europe before and here we were across the world. I was just numb - could not believe it. You know, we have him on video two hours before that – messing about on the beach, watching the sunset’

Did Ken ever consult a doctor for his indigestion, I wondered. ‘Yes ... they called it ‘acid reflux’ .It can be mistaken for heart attacks. So who knows whether it was his heart then – maybe its been building up over the years’.

‘Now all we wanted was to get home’. Her mind was back in Hawaii. ‘We were across the world, time zones were against us and the next 24 hours was a living hell as we tried to get home’.

It was suggested she and the children fly home first, Ken could follow. ‘No!’ she was adamant ‘We are not leaving Hawaii without him’. And they didn’t. They brought him home in an enormous American casket – white with golden angels! Very Hollywood. That would have appealed to Ken’s sense of the ridiculous!...

The complete interview appeared in the Sunday Express, April 21, 2002

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