Cheltenham’s ‘Flower Man’ Mark Morris said he wants to spend the short time he has left with his two sons in heartbreaking speech to launch this year’s Beards Diamond Rush
Mark came straight from a family holiday in Turkey to launch the charity treasure hunt which will help raise money to help people like him who have been diagnosed with the crippling Motor Neurone Disease.
Standing with ex-wife Rebecca Gill, and children Alfie, aged eight, and Jay, aged 18, by his side, the well-known figure broke down as he said all he wanted to do was spend time the time he had left with his family.
“All I want to do is spend time with these two,” he two he said of his sons.
“They are the most important things in my life. Always have been and always will be.
“I have a short time to live and want to spend that time on the best.”
Breaking down in tears he urged around 1,000 people who turned out to see the launch to tell their families how much they loved them and put some effort into their relationships “before time runs out”.
And afterwards, clearly exhausted from his speech, the 49-year-old who was running 10Ks this time last year, told Gloucestershirelive how he and his sons had drawn up bucket list of memories to create before he dies.
“Jay understands but I think it’s more difficult for Alfie to take in because he’s that bit younger,” he said. “His grandfather died four or five years ago so I tell him that I’m going to see his granddad.
“We have drawn up a bucket list and just come back from a family holiday in Turkey to try and make some memories.
“Jay wanted to go to the Monaco Grand Prix so we have done that and now Alfie wants to drive an Aston Martin, which is the next thing on the list.
“There’s a charity at Staverton that will take us up in a plane and arrange for Alfie to have a day out at a fire station, which he will enjoy.
“”But to be honest all I want to do is be with the boys. I’ve been quite lucky to have had my own business so I have travelled a lot in my life and done things like bungee jumping, but being with them is so much more important than any of that.
“We do have a bucket list but for me it’s all about spending time with the boys and making sure they are OK.”
The Flower Man is best known for his stall on The Promenade in Cheltenham which he has had for the past 14 years and says the support he has had from the town since news of his illness broke has been “unbelievable”.
Fit as a fiddle Mark only realised something was wrong last September when he tried Fluid Pilates to help him become more flexible for Tough Mudders and 10k runs he was taking part in and found he could not lie on his back without running of breath.
But despite seeing a number of doctors to find out why he kept getting shorter and shorter of breath, it was not until February this year that he was referred to a neurologist who told him within days that he had the crippling disease MND.
“All I knew about it then was Stephen Hawkins but now I know that it has different strains and affects everybody differently,” he said. “A lot of people get it in their limbs before their lungs but it went straight to my lungs.
“Mine has a life span of 18 months, but who knows? I have cut a lot of stress out of my life and sold the business so you never know.
“I couldn’t do the early mornings or carry the buckets of flowers any more, so it was for the best. But everyone will tell you that I am OCD about my flowers so I will still be there keeping an eye on things.“
Since news of his condition leaked out he has been overwhelmed with support and local people are helping him and the children build a collection memories, including arranging the Grand Prix visit.
“The love Cheltenham has given me has been unbelievable,” he said. “People have been sending me messages and money which I have given to the charity. It’s overwhelming to see everybody here today.”
Jodie Taylor, 30, has worked for Mark for 13-years and says she was heartbroken when he told her the devastating news.
“I just collapsed,” she said. “He’s been like a second dad to me so it was just awful and I feel for his family.
“I’m getting married in September and when I gave him an invitation to my wedding ihe said he might not be here by then.”
Cheltenham Town manager Michael Duff also attended the Diamond Rush paid tribute to Mark saying he had done the flowers for his wedding and many family members since.
He said he was particulary shocked by the diagnosis because Mark is the type of person who was in the gym a lot.
Beards’ managing director, Alex Rose, said until now the company has always raised money exclusively for Maggie’s Cancer Care but this year he also wanted to honour Mark who owns The Flower Man stand outside the Cheltenham jewellers.
“When I heard about his situation it just pulled at my heartstrings,” he said. “ I just wanted to do something to help but there was nothing I could do to change the MND diagnosis.
“This was the only positive thing I could do. At first I was thinking of raising money for Mark and his family but he asked us to do it for the MND Association, which provides support for those affected by MND.
“ It’s lovely to see how many people have come out today to support him. They were queueing back from The House of Fraser this morning.”
Speaking in a video on the Beards Jewellers page, Mark whose stall has been on the Promenade for around 14 years, urged people to turn out for the 2019 The Diamond Rush.
Nine diamonds worth £1,000 were hidden across the town and surrounding area, for people to find in a luxurious treasure hunt.