Feature: Schoolboy who befriended pensioner was there for him until dying day

Erik was with Doug until his dying day
Erik was with Doug until his dying day

School visit to care home turned into an unlikely friendship between teenager and 88-year-old

A Hemel sixth-former who befriended an elderly care home resident and continued to visit him until he died is in the running for a top award.

Erik Kerr, 17, was one of nearly 40 sixth-formers from John F Kennedy School who took part in a trial befriending scheme at Highview Lodge care home in Gadebridge.

But while the other pupils in the scheme were getting on with their everyday lives, Erik continued to visit his new-found 88-year-old friend even when he was dying.

Erik befriended Douglas Hosier, a retired plasterer formerly of Park Hill Road, Boxmoor, whose wife had died in 2001 and who went to live at Highview Lodge last summer.

Douglas had early dementia and sometimes suffered short-term memory loss but his long-term memory was good.

He died in May.

Now the care home’s manager, Tracey Axten, has nominated Erik for the Mitsubishi Electric Young People of the Year awards.

The YOPEYs are ‘Oscars for young people who give to others’ and there is £2,000 in cash prizes to be won.

There is a top prize of £800 to be won by a young person or group of young people, aged 10-25, who help others.

The young person or group keeps £400 and gives £400 to a good cause of their choice.

It would be a fitting year for Erik to win as 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the awards which held its first campaign in Hertfordshire and has since spread to 12 other English counties, including Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Home manager Tracey said Erik showed ‘maturity, dedication and respect’ during his time with Douglas.

She said: “Dealing with someone dying even many professionals find difficult.

“Their friendship proved that no matter the age difference a special relationship can be formed.”

After the school’s first trip to the home in October last year, Erik fitted his future visits around his A-level studies and commuting to and from the Roman Catholic comprehensive in Hollybush Lane.

Tracey said: “Erik stood out from day one.

“He showed respect not just to the resident he befriended but to all he met along the way.

“Erik built a good friendship with Douglas and showed commitment throughout.

“Erik would always arrange with Douglas when his next visit would be.

“If something came up at school Erik would always call to let Douglas know he would not be in but would be in the day after.

“Douglas became ill very quickly but this did not deter Erik from visiting him.

“Staff were astounded with Erik’s dedication.

“He showed compassion, empathy and respect to Douglas when he could no longer communicate back to Erik.

“This young man completed his friendship to the end.”

The teenager struggled to deal with Douglas’s death but he was glad for their time together.

“I continued to see Doug even if he was unconscious because I believed that he wanted some company even if he couldn’t talk to you,” Erik said.

In happier times Douglas told Erik about his younger days including how he met his wife Eileen in Boxmoor, where they both grew up and that she was his best friend’s sister.

Erik said: “Doug told me that his best friend introduced him to his sister a few years before the Second World War started and that they were very close right up until the war began when he asked her to marry him with his friend’s consent.”

Volunteering to join the Royal Navy, Able Seaman Douglas manned the guns on a destroyer.

He appears to have told Erik things about the war that he had not even shared with his own family.

“He told me about shelling the Germans on D-Day to protect the Allies landing on the Normandy beaches.

“When I first met Douglas I was expecting someone who didn’t have much life left in him, but instead I got a man so full of energy and hope that he could make you smile just by saying “hello.”

Douglas’s son David Hosier, who lives in Hemel, said: “Dad didn’t like to talk about the war but he liked to talk to Erik and he opened up to him.

“We were very impressed by Erik.”

Daughter Charmaine, of Tamar Green, Hemel, also paid tribute to the caring teen.

“Erik was very popular with dad in the last months of his life. They got on very well.”

YOPEY has been praised by Prime Minister David Cameron who said ‘entries show determination and resolve to make a difference’.

Schools, youth organisations, churches and charities across Herts are urged to nominate their young people.

If their nominee wins, they can receive half the prize money.

Family and friends can also nominate but they cannot win prize money.

Young people can even nominate themselves.

For more information or to nominate someone deserving log on to www.yopey.org