Mourners line street for legendary lorry driver’s funeral cortege
Hundreds paid their respects as Caerphilly legend Gary Rees was laid to rest. Mourners lined Cardiff Road in the town centre as a funeral cortege passed through displaying pictures of Gary and loved ones. The hugely popular doorman and lorry driver was badly injured in Oakdale on July 4 when a HGV driver travelling on the wrong side of a road hit his lorry head-on.
The 55-year-old dad was able to leave hospital the next day and appeared to be recovering over the following weeks. We interviewed Gary on July 28 about his experience, but that night he died suddenly at home. The cause is yet to be confirmed.
Horns blared from a long string of lorries -- including HGVs from Gary's employer DHL -- in the procession on Thursday morning as it headed through Caerphilly before reaching Bedwas rugby club. The several hundred mourners far outnumbered the club's seats so most stood to watch the powerful service, which took place on the grass pitch-side with Gary's coffin draped in a Wales flag. Read next: Family pay tribute to 'beautiful, happy, healthy little boy' found dead in pond
"News of Gary's death swept over the whole area like a tsunami," the celebrant Alison Davies told those gathered. "He was so well-known and popular, everyone found it so hard to accept what they were hearing. Many are still in shock." His wife Hayley and sons Macauley, 26, and Jorge, 19, each paid moving tributes at the funeral.
Before their memories were shared Ms Davies said: "Hayley wanted me to mention that it wasn't in Gary's character to be angry at the driver who caused the accident. Gary felt only compassion and empathy. When he heard the driver had been given a 20-week prison sentence Gary broke down and sobbed.
He was very concerned about the driver's welfare, especially with him being so far away from his family [in Poland]. That was Gary all over. He never held any grudges in his life."Gary Rees was injured in a crash in Oakdale (Image: John Myers)The funeral cortege in Caerphilly's Cardiff Road
Gary earned his "gentle giant" reputation across almost four decades working on Caerphilly pub and club doors.
Despite being 6ft 6ins tall he was renowned for defusing tense situations with his charm. Gary's sense of humour even stayed when he was hospitalised following the crash with severe head and leg injuries. "Always being a wind-up merchant, he got his family to cover him in wires at the hospital and put a picture on social media for extra sympathy," said Ms Davies. She also told the story of how Hayley, an introvert, had been dragged out on the town by friends the night she met Gary. "While she was out she bumped into her friend Vicky who introduced her to Gary," said Ms Davies. "Within 15 minutes Gary felt so comfortable with Hayley that he started holding her hand and persuaded her to go to another pub called Checkmate."
Hayley, then 26, and Gary, who had told her he was 38, sat up all night chatting. There were laughs as Ms Davies added: "A few weeks later Hayley was invited to Gary's surprise 40th birthday. By that stage she was too far smitten to be put off by such a minor thing as his age."A picture of Gary and Hayley Rees displayed in the funeral cortege
The couple married in 2014 and Gary became a beloved dad to Hayley's son Jorge.
In her tribute Hayley said: "From the first moment you held my hand I felt something special happening. I find it hard to put into words the love I felt for you. We were soulmates.
"We took on a pub for a few years and had some great times there. You supported me throughout my degree and pushed me when I felt like giving up. "Friends and family would laugh and say: 'Why are you getting up at 4am or 5am to make his breakfast?' I would say I needed to know you had gone to work fed.
"No amount of years together would have been enough. You were the best part of me and I have no idea what to do now. Love like that only comes around once.
I should feel lucky but I feel cheated... Thank you for being a great dad, my soulmate, and the love of my life."Macauley Rees as a youth with dad Gary (Image: Conor Gogarty)
There was a huge round of applause and laughter as pallbearer Macauley started his eulogy: "The first thing I want to say is that f***ing coffin was heavy. But I wouldn't want to change it for the world.
I want to say on behalf of all the pallbearers that we are proud to carry your coffin." Macauley imagined his dad "laughing his head off" at the "chaos" caused by the cortege to Caerphilly traffic. Speaking about Gary's approach to security he added: "You would think his towering presence was intimidating but he was far from it." The warmth of his relationship with punters inspired Macauley to set up his own security company which has around 15 door staff and even employed Gary.
"He was probably the hardest-working man I ever came across, working two jobs all those years, but he never had a penny on him," Macauley joked. "Countless times he claimed he'd left his wallet in the house." Hayley also remembered her husband's sense of mischief. There was more laughter as her tribute told how shortly after Gary's death two boys had come to the family's door wanting to speak to him. "It turned out they'd sung a song to Gary.
He told them to come back in a few weeks and he would give them some money."The funeral at Bedwas rugby club
Jorge said Gary was "the strongest, most hard-working person" he knew. The 19-year-old added: "You taught me how to be a man. I'm going to miss a lot of things about you, especially your contagious laugh and how much you loved to wind people up.
I'll never forget the memories we made." Gary's friend Calvin shared a story from their youth. When Gary challenged him to a competition of who could eat a cream cracker quickest Calvin marvelled at his ability to swallow the dry snack within seconds.
It was only when Calvin went into the kitchen for water that he saw Gary had been placing a knob of butter in his mouth for each contest. A tribute was also read from Gary's siblings Vicky and Neil remembering how his Bonfire Night fireworks rivalled Caerphilly Castle displays and his reputation as "king" of family barbecues. They added: "He was a bloody good comedian and gave the best bear hugs a brother could give."Gary Rees (Image: Rees family)
Hayley's sister Naomi said: "You made my sister the happiest I have ever seen her, taking on Jorge and loving him like a dad should.
You helped me get through the darkest times of my life and you always knew how to make me feel better... You weren't one of the best G, you really were the best." When Gary moved to the Churchill Park estate as a child in 1976 he met Colin Beach, who went on to be best man at his wedding.
Colin, who was fond of pranking his friend, recalled a holiday when he jumped on Gary's "badly sun-burned" back and "narrowly avoided a big haymaker". He added: "Gary was a doorman in a million. He'd rather talk to people who'd had a bit too much to drink instead of throwing them in the gutter.
Most likely he'd drive them home." The funeral heard Gary had seen both Spartacus and Gladiator "about a million times" but he never tired of a running joke -- whenever either film appeared on television he would say: "Oh I haven't seen this one."Several hundred mourners turned out for Gary Rees' funeral
The celebrant Ms Davies added: "He pretended he didn't like the family's dogs Ted and Harley but the gallery on his phone proved otherwise. Every other photo was of those dogs.
They are now missing Gary just as much as the rest of the family. "Gary truly had a beautiful soul and a heart of gold. He loved people and would happily chat to anyone he came across.
Within five minutes he would not only have their whole life story but they would be added to his very long list of friends." You can read our interview with Gary here. Our report on the court case following the collision can be read here.