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By Tom Parmenter, Sky News Correspondent
Thursday 16 July 2015
Olive Cooke, who started selling poppies in 1938, took her own life after struggling to cope with depression, a coroner finds.
Inquest: Poppy Seller’s Death Was Suicide
A “lifelong battle with depression” led Britain’s oldest poppy seller to take her own life, her family has said.
Olive Cooke, who was 92, died in May after climbing over railings and throwing herself into the Avon Gorge in Bristol.
At the inquest into her death, Assistant Coroner Terence Moore said he was satisfied Mrs Cooke intended to take her own life.
She had left a suicide note and was taking antidepressants at the time of her death, he said.
Evidence from Mrs Cooke’s GP showed she had made at least one previous attempt to take her own life.
“She lived a full life and achieved so much and we are extremely proud.
“Unfortunately she had a lifelong battle with depression and as she got older it got harder for her to cope.”
Following Mrs Cooke’s death, friends highlighted the stress she had felt being bombarded with letters and calls from various charities asking for further donations.
At one point she had 27 direct debits leaving her account.
Close friend Michael Earley told Sky News: “It was in her bones. “Her bones were completely and utterly charitable.”
He added: “I was there when the letters would pile up … the phone calls were never stopping.”
However, Mrs Cooke’s family always believed the attention from charities did not lead her directly to take her own life.
Since her death her tireless fundraising and generosity have been acknowledged by people across Bristol, Mr Earley said, adding: “Her life was just phenomenal.
“She was a Bristol legend, the kind of woman this whole country should be proud of.”
Last weekend, the Government said Mrs Cooke’s death was one of the reasons behind a move to tighten the rules on how charities seek donations.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the way some fundraisers were operating was “frankly unacceptable”.
The new laws will make charities sign an agreement promising to protect vulnerable people.
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Poppy seller Olive Cooke suffered depression before death, inquest told — (The Guardian)
Steven Morris @stevenmorris20
Thursday 16 July 2015 17.58 BST Last modified on Friday 17 July 2015 00.01 BST
Bristol fundraiser left suicide note saying she was also suffering from insomnia and could ‘take no more’
Olive Cooke had felt hounded by requests from fundraisers for donations prior to her death. Photograph: PA
One of Britain’s oldest and most prolific poppy sellers left a note to her family saying she was suffering “deep depression” before plunging to her death in the Avon Gorge, an inquest has heard.
Following Cooke’s death, family and friends said she had been upset by charities constantly asking her for money, prompting widespread concern over how fundraisers operate.
During 92-year-old Cooke’s inquest no mention was made of the scores of charity calls and letters she received monthly but it emerged she had suffered depression, insomnia and breast cancer.
Terence Moore, the assistant coroner for Avon, reached a conclusion of suicide. He said: “Mrs Cooke was a lady who had suffered with low mood and depression for a number of years and there had been a significant attempt to take her own life as long ago as 2009.”
The hearing at Avon coroner’s court, near Bristol, was told Cooke was discovered in the gorge having left a bag containing her personal belongings and her walking stick at the top of the cliffs.
Inside the bag was a piece of cardboard with the message “Please phone police 999 elderly Fishponds lady gone over cliff” and a scrap of paper with “Mrs Olive Lilian Cooke” written on it.
A further note was found in the bedroom of Cooke’s flat in the Fishponds area of Bristol addressed to her “loving family and step family”. It read: “I find that with these last four months of health and deep depression and little sleep I can take no more. Thank you all for your love and kindness always.” The note told the family not to worry.
Cooke, a retired postal worker, dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Royal British Legion and is believed to have sold about 30,000 poppies.
In a statement read to the court on behalf of Cooke’s family, her granddaughter Louise King said she was a “much-loved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother”. King said: “She lived a full life and achieved so much of which we are extremely proud. She loved being independent and being able to do things for herself.
“Unfortunately she had a lifelong battle with depression and as she got older it became harder to cope. She feared losing her independence. We as a family were aware of this and did all that we could to support her. Her health declined and it seemed she was determined to choose her own fate.”
Her efforts for charity began as a teenager after being inspired by her father, Fred Canning, a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign. She devoted herself even more passionately to her charity work after her husband, Leslie Hussey-Yeo, a sailor in the Royal Navy, was killed in Italy in 1943, leaving her a widow at the age of 21.
Cooke became a familiar face in Bristol and stood in the doorway of the cathedral every year in the runup to Remembrance Day.
But she felt pressured by the number of requests for help she received from charities, once telling the Bristol Evening Post that she dreaded the arrival of the morning mail because of the number of requests for money. She said in one month she collected 267 items of post from dozens of different charities, asking her for a donation or help with fundraising.
Cooke added: “I have always donated to charity … but as I am getting older, I have been told I need to start cutting back … I think the elderly are targeted with this sort of mail on purpose, as charities think they have lots of disposable money or they might have donated in the past, but receiving so much is overwhelming. And it’s not just post, there are also lots of phone calls that come through. There must be a lot of people in a similar situation.”
Fundraising methods have come under the spotlight since Cooke’s death. While not directly linking charities to her death, family and a close friend said she had been upset by the constant approaches.
Last week, the prime minister, David Cameron, announced that rogue charity fundraisers taking advantage of vulnerable people’s generosity will face a new law to stop such “unacceptable” behaviour.