The sister of an Andover man who raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity has said he was “kind to the very end” after passing away earlier this week.

Anne Williams paid tribute to her brother, Stephen Pugh, who sadly died of Covid on Monday. Stephen raised over £26,000 for charity over many years in Andover, and was Highly Commended at the Pride of Andover awards in 2010 for his work.

Anne thanked the people of Andover for their support of Stephen over the years, saying “they have taken him to their hearts.”

The news of his death follows that of his former assistance dog and fellow fundraiser Scott, who also passed away in the past week.

Stephen Pugh was born in Carmarthenshire in “deep, rural” Wales. “The next door neighbours were probably half a mile away,” said Anne. “We had no telephone, no nothing.”

Stephen’s kind and gentle nature was obvious from an early age, as he looked after the family’s animals.

“We used to keep one pig, one cow and one dog in our smallholding in South West Wales, and Stephen used to help look after them,” said Anne. “He used to love dogs, even then, and loved wild animals. Being out rurally, there were a lot of wild animals about, and farm animals he used to enjoy.”

Stephen inspects the car engine with his mum and dad

Stephen inspects the car engine with his mum and dad

Anne remembers that Stephen would regularly help out his parents around the house, and that he loved spending time with his dad in the garage, and with his mum in the garden. Even as he grew up, Stephen was continuing to help those nearby, caring for an elderly neighbour who had suffered a stroke.

At the time of his birth, Anne says Stephen was a perfectly healthy baby, but as he grew up, the family became aware that something was wrong.

Stephen rides a bike with his sister Christine and his brother Brian

Stephen rides a bike with his sister Christine and his brother Brian

She said: “When he was about three, he started falling over and nobody knew why. His vision wasn’t good but it wasn’t bad either. By the time he was about 8 or 10 he used to wear big bottle-bottomed glasses because his vision was so bad.”

It wasn’t until the age of 27 that the family found out that Stephen was suffering from a rare genetic disorder, when Anne found he was unable to see the edge of the pavement after a meal out.

“Mum took him to an optician,” she said, “and he sent him for tests that confirmed retinitis pigmentosa.”

Retinitis pigmentosa is a condition that sees the breakdown of cells in the retina, the part of the eye which senses light. Stephen was later diagnosed with a rare form of the condition called Neuropathy, ataxia, and retinitis pigmentosa, or NARP, where a mutation in the mitochondria, which provide energy for cells, causes them to function less effectively.

This results in nerves becoming numb to sensation and blindness, as well as problems with co-ordination and balance. It affects around one in 12,000 people worldwide.

While many people may have fallen into despair, Stephen took it in his stride. “He never ever, ever complained,” said Anne. “He never said why me, he was never bitter. He was a gentle, kind soul.”

After becoming blind, Stephen had to head to Truro, where has was taught to use a white stick for walking. While he was there, he met an Andover woman on the course called Vanessa, and they quickly fell in love.

Anne said: “Mum rang me one day and she said: ‘You won’t believe it, but Stephen’s getting married!’. ‘That’s ridiculous’, I said. ‘He’s lived at home up until now.’”

The pair soon got married and moved to Fyfield in 2000, where they spent may happy years together. “They were soulmates,” says Anne. “They were so well-suited together, it was uncanny.”

After moving to Andover, Stephen began to become involved in a variety of fundraising activities, where he was often seen dressed as a banana. In 2010, he was Highly Commended at the Pride of Andover Awards for his work as an “outstanding volunteer.”

His fundraising was helped by his assistance dog Scott, who came to live with the couple in 2012.

Stephen with his wife Vanessa and assistance dog Scott

Stephen with his wife Vanessa and assistance dog Scott

Anne said: “He got Scott at two years old in 2012 and Vanessa, Stephen and Scott became so close. Scott was Stephen’s assistance dog but he was there to help and support Vanessa as well.”

Sadly, 2012 was also the year Vanessa passed away, with his mother following two years later. Stephen has previously told the Advertiser that Scott helped him through these dark years.

Stephen with his beloved dogs

Stephen with his beloved dogs

“He’ll just come to you and sit his head on your lap and give you a big lick, lick the tears away and tell you he’s there for anything,” said Stephen.

He moved to King Arthur’s Way following his wife’s death, but continued to fundraise. He raised £450 on one weekend alone in 2013, and was a regular sight across Andover where he and Scott raised money for a variety of charities. For Dogs for Good, who provided him with Scott, he raised £26,179 over seven years.

Stephen and Scott fundraising in the former Sainsburys branch on Bridge Street

Stephen and Scott fundraising in the former Sainsbury's branch on Bridge Street

“He was a gentle, kind soul,” said Anne. “It seems like they [the people of Andover] have taken him to their hearts.”

Stephen and Scott retired from fundraising in 2019, with Scott being rehomed with the Lanham family in his retirement.

Sadly, earlier this year, events took a turn for the worse as Stephen was hospitalised following a fall, which used to happen “about twice a year.”

“He rang me on January 11 and said he was in hospital,” said Anne. “He said: ‘I’ve got it’, and he’d tested positive for Covid.

Anne tried to ring him the next day, but couldn’t get through, with it later transpiring he had been discharged on Friday, January 15. After not being able to get through to him at home, Anne discovered that Stephen had been readmitted to hospital.

“He’d been readmitted to this ward as he’d been vomiting and he’d had to ring an ambulance again,” she said. “He just deteriorated from there.”

Anne said that doctors believed that NARP exacerbated Stephen’s infection, and sadly this caused him difficulty breathing. He slipped into unconsciousness, and passed away on Monday evening (February 8).

By his side was his friend Kelly, who stayed with Stephen during his final hours. “I’m so glad she managed to get there and that they allowed her in,” said Anne. She praised the medics who battled to save Stephen’s life for their work, and their compassion.

Following an outpouring of sympathy on social media, Anne paid tribute to the people of Andover, thanking them for “taking him in” all those years ago. It also transpired that Stephen’s beloved dog Scott also passed away this week at the age of 12.

Dogs for Good, for which Stephen raised so much money, also paid tribute, saying that they were “very upset to hear of Stephen’s death,” and praised him for his “fantastic” work over the years.

To learn more about Dogs for Good, and make a donation towards it, you can click here.