Special tribute to remarkable 103-year-old Hastings woman walking 17 miles for charity

The remarkable Hastings pensioner Joan Willet will be given a special tribute on her 104th birthday as she continues to walk the steep hill outside her care home to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

Friday, 10th July 2020, 1:36 pm
Joan Willet SUS-200906-093154001

Joan has been climbing the hill four times a day until her birthday as she hopes to raise more than £8,000.

By the end of her challenge, Joan will have clocked up more than 17 miles.

As she embarks on the home stretch after her month-long challenge, the BHF has paid a very special tribute to say, ‘Thank You and Happy Birthday Joan!’,

From July 12, images of Joan’s walk will be broadcast on the iconic Piccadilly Lights billboard in the heart of London for a week up until her birthday on July 19.

Joan who lives at Old Hastings House residential home was inspired by fellow centenarian Sir Captain Tom Moore to do her daily treks.

The former teacher had life-saving valve replacement surgery after her second heart attack when she was 82 and since then has been walking the hill outside her care home daily to keep fit and independent.

But after watching Sir Captain Tom on TV she decided to use her daily exercise to help fund the heart research that she says allowed her to reach her 100th birthday, and beyond.

With the help of her friend and care home worker Pauline Glenet, Joan set up a JustGiving page and has now raised more than £8,000 – smashing her target of £500.

Among those who donated and sent messages of support were former pupils of Hollington School in Hastings where she taught for over 30 years and later became Deputy Head.

Joan said: “When the BHF told me, they wanted to put my story up on the Piccadilly Lights I was totally stunned and lost for words. I never expected all this fuss, I was just doing my daily walk as I’ve always done.

“The response and the messages from friends and former pupils have been overwhelming. It’s really spurred me on. I can’t believe the interest I have had and people wave, cheer and toot their car horns when I walk which really spurs me on. Now I have an ambition to meet Captain Tom Moore to thank him for his inspiration.”

Joan said she wanted to raise money for heart research as a thank you for the surgery that saved her life more than two decades ago.

She added: “When I was 82, I collapsed in the middle of the night with a heart attack and luckily, I was able to press my lifeline, so someone came to help immediately, they sent paramedics from the Conquest Hospital.
“I spent three to four weeks there before being sent to The Kings College Hospital in London where I had a double heart bypass and a new synthetic valve. I am so grateful to the BHF and its research that has made operations like mine possible. I wouldn’t have survived without it let alone reach the age I am.

“I could barely walk afterwards but that’s when I came to live Old Hastings House and the staff have been marvellous and encouraged me to get well and to retain my independence, which luckily I still have. My achievement is also their achievement as I regularly tell my friends. For example, they supported me at the age of 85 to learn how to use the computer for the first time. I put my longevity down to natural curiosity.

Jason Denny, Manager of Old Hastings House says he’s not surprised by Joan’s achievement: “Joan is always pushing herself and is very young at heart despite her age. She said to me at the start of this, “Jason, I won’t want to look like an old woman”. She’s a credit to Old Hastings House and it is our privilege to have had her as our resident for over 20 years.”

Donna Spriggs Elliott, Director of Corporate and Community Development at the British Heart Foundation said: “I can’t express how grateful the BHF are to Joan for this incredible effort to raise funds for research into heart and circulatory disease. Her support means so much, particularly in these difficult times when charities like us are suffering from the impact of Covid 19 on donations.

“We estimate that our annual research budget may be cut in half by £50 million, so incredible supporters like Joan are vital to help us continue our work to help improve and save lives. The money she is raising will help others live long and fulfilling lives like her. Thank you and Happy Birthday Joan.”

Born in the middle of the First World War, Joan did not meet her father until she was two years old as he was fighting in France. She went on to forge a successful career in teaching.

She added: “I loved teaching and had a marvellous career which started in London just before the Second World War. I tried to join the RAF, but they wouldn’t have me because teaching was a reserved profession …so I carried on teaching throughout the war in London.

“I remember all the children had to come to school with their gas masks and a warm coat as we often had to go down to the underground air raid shelters when the siren went off. I often had to teach down there”.

Joan’s fundraising page is at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/joansdailyhike