Amazing tribute to Gracie

NOT FORGOTTEN: Graham Harley, who continues an 80-year family tradition to send flowers to the grave of diptheria victim Gracie Kay, at Thornhill parish churchyard. (d22081175)
NOT FORGOTTEN: Graham Harley, who continues an 80-year family tradition to send flowers to the grave of diptheria victim Gracie Kay, at Thornhill parish churchyard. (d22081175)
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SAYING it with flowers has taken on a whole new meaning for two families linked by a childhood friendship.

For although it is nearly 80 years since little Gracie Kay died from diptheria, her last surviving sister still receives a bouquet on the anniversary of her death each year.

HAPPY TIMES: Florrie Sykes, front left, and Gracie Kay, front right, pictured with friends and family in Thornhill in the early 1930s.

HAPPY TIMES: Florrie Sykes, front left, and Gracie Kay, front right, pictured with friends and family in Thornhill in the early 1930s.

The tradition was started by Gracie’s best friend, Florrie Sykes. Florrie herself died in 2003, but her son, Graham Harley, continues to celebrate the friendship.

And the floral tribute looks set to continue into the future.

Florrie and Gracie lived near each other in Thornhill, enjoying a close friendship, which was abruptly ended by the diptheria outbreak which claimed Gracie’s life in January 1934.

Graham, who is 66 and lives in Heckmondwike, said: “I don’t really know how it started, but after that, every year mum would take flowers to Gracie’s home and it just continued.”

The Kay family, devastated by Gracie’s untimely death, was touched by the simple gesture of remembrance.

As a young woman, Florrie married Stanley Harley and in the late 1960s the couple retired to Lytham on the Lancashire coast. But still the flowers were sent to Thornhill every year – although now by Interflora.

When Florrie died, the Kay family felt sure the tradition would end. But Graham and his wife, Gillian, sent the flowers the first year after his mother’s death as ‘a one-off’.

“We didn’t really mean to carry it on, but we have,” he said.

These days, Graham takes the flowers to the Thornhill home of Gracie’s surviving sister, the last of the family of five siblings.

And even though she is now 92, she takes the blooms to the family grave in Thornhill churchyard.

“I know the family keeps thinking we will stop sending the flowers, but we have no intention of doing that,” said Graham. “It’s good it continues after all these years and that Gracie is still fondly remembered.”

The diptheria outbreak claimed hundreds of young lives in Dewsbury.

Gracie arrived home from school one day not feeling well. Three days later she was dead.

Her heartbroken mother pressed her face to the glass window of the mortuary to get as close to Gracie as she could.

Later, she pressed her body against the hearse which brought Gracie home as she said the last goodbye.

A spokesman for the Kay family said: “It is wonderful that this tradition has continued for so many years. We think it’s amazing and such a lovely tribute to Gracie, who died so young.”