Bingo in church with a ventriloquist’s dummy “contributing” to the many tributes – a remarkable life has been marked at a remarkable service.
St Mary the Virgin at Westham is a large church with Norman origins. Yet there was scarcely a seat to spare last Friday and in all its long history it is doubtful whether it has hosted anything quite like the celebration of the short but inspirational life of heart-lung transplant patient Nicola Thomas-Langlands.
Nicola, 37, of Pevensey Bay and formerly of Bexhill, died on December 2 – 24 years after world-renowned surgeon Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub gave her the heart and lungs of a donor whose parents’ selfless generosity was also remembered in prayer last Friday.
Her brothers Alex and Tom helped bear into church the white coffin with its blood-red heart motif.
The first of nearly a dozen moving tributes was given by her father.
Nicola was born with half a heart. Jim Langlands spoke of the indomitable spirit which, from birth, shaped a “remarkable” life. Nicola’s “courage, tenacity, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness” had been inherited, he said, from her mother, Lynn – whose own often-humorous tribute was delivered in verse form. He said tributes which had flowed in via Twitter had been “uplifting” for the family.
Other tributes were paid by Nicola’s grandmother, Val Collis, by her 15 year-old daughter Megan and by her sister Jessica. Another was given by fellow transplant patient Natasha Rogers. In September, Nicola had hosted a fund-raising concert at Devonshire Park Theatre for her own charity Look Beyond the Heart, featuring Britain’s Got Talent finalist Steve Hewlett.
Ventriloquist Steve employed his alter ego, “Arthur Lager” in church in his own tribute to Nicola’s campaigning work. Bingo was Nicola’s favourite pastime. Those attending the service were invited by friend Nina Collins to take part in a quick game.
In a final prayer, the Rev Nicholas Fincham said, “Nicola is no longer with us physically but her inspiration and example will go on and will continue to do so.”
He offered a prayer for organ donors, for Harefield Hospital where Nicola had her operation in 1989, and for transplant patients and their carers.
The retiring collection was in aid of Look Beyond the Heart, which supports transplant patients and their families.
Nicola’s coffin was afterwards borne to Eastbourne crematorium in a white horse-drawn hearse.