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Morecambe RNLI lifeboat hero dies after short illness

Lifeboats News Release

Is is with great sadness that Morecambe's RNLI lifeboat crew learned of the death of their most decorated volunteer, Keith Willacy; aged 81.

RNLI/Colin Midwinter

Keith Willacy 1936-2018

A founder member of Morecambe’s RNLI inshore lifeboat crew, Keith was the Senior Helmsman for many years before retiring from the crew in 1986. He was later appointed to the role of Honorary Secretary (now known as Lifeboat Operations Manager) for a number of years.

Keith was awarded an RNLI Bronze Medal in 1973 in recognition of his courage, skill and tenacity during the rescue of 2 men stranded on Clarks Wharf Sandbank; half a mile off Heysham Harbour.

In 1981 Keith received a framed letter of thanks from the RNLI Chairman in recognition of the determination and excellent seamanship he displayed during the rescue of 2 men from an inflatable dinghy near Morecambe golf course.

In 1983 Keith was awarded a Silver Medal in recognition of his courage, determination, leadership and seamanship when the D class lifeboat rescued a man after he had been persuaded to jump into the sea from a concrete marker pillar; onto which he had climbed when he was in difficulties on his sailboard, a quarter of a mile north of Heysham Harbour, in a gale and a rough sea.

In 1990 the ‘Thanks of the Institution’ inscribed on Vellum were accorded to Keith and his fellow crew members; in recognition of their high standard of seamanship and bravery when a Zodiac Mark III inflatable dinghy was launched from the shore and completed a night rescue of the sole occupant of the yacht Phoenix off Glasson Dock; in a north westerly storm and heavy rain.

Morecambe RNLI volunteer Deputy Launching Authority, Colin Midwinter, said ‘Keith was the senior helmsman when I joined the crew, as a teenager, during the mid-seventies. Keith’s wife Jean and my mother worked together in the old telephone exchange. Of many personal memories I have, two come instantly to mind.

The first is when we were called out to go to the aid of two anglers who were in a dinghy trapped under the Central Pier and in danger of being smashed to pieces. The sea was very rough and we were having difficulty launching the lifeboat as the incoming tide kept washing it back onto its trailer. The decision was quickly taken to tip the trailer up at the side of the slipway to get the boat into the water. We did so and the boat suddenly slid off the trailer; with me still holding on to it. We didn’t have dry suits in those days and I surfaced apparently looking like a drowned rat, soaking wet and freezing cold, to be greeted with Keith’s instruction to ‘stop messing about and get in the boat’.

The second occurred when he and Jean were invited to attend a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. Keith was determined not to stay in the capital city any longer than necessary and, as I was living and working in London at the time, it was agreed that I would pick them up outside the Palace gates at 5pm and drive them to Euston station in time to catch the 5.25pm train. I duly collected them and drove through the rush hour traffic; dropping them off with 10 minutes to spare. Keith had his eyes closed for the entire journey. It was the only time I ever saw him lost for words.

A keen local historian, Keith published books on the history of local lifeboats and the fishing industry and his artistic talent can be seen adorning some of the town’s buildings.

Keith took part in over 200 rescues during his lifeboat career and he leaves a legacy and an example for others to aspire to. Our condolences go out to his son, David, and the rest of his family.’

Key facts about the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.

The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.

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The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland