Ilona Stott collapsed and died without warning at West Suffolk Hospital on June 25th 2002. She had been admitted to hospital with mild chest pains and was being monitored in the Cardiac Care Unit. Her husband, Mike, who had called the ambulance, 'to be on the safe side' was with her just 10 minutes before and she was sitting up in a chair try to negotiate an early release from hospital so she could be home for the weekend. She appeared to be fine and talkative (as she usually was) and found it almost amusing but unbelievable, that a non-drinking, non-smoking, fit and stress-free middle-aged lady had suffered what was diagnosed as a mild heart attack. Mike left Ilona in relatively high spirits that evening. "On my way home, the car phone rang and the hospital told me that Ilona had collapsed and I should return immediately" he said. "As I entered the ward I could see things were not right. The sister came up to me and said 'we are so sorry, her heart just stopped'".
Ilona was born at Brockett Hall near Welwyn Garden City in 1947, and spent 30 years with British Airways. She started work on the Information Desk where her language skills came to the fore, before switching to Cabin Crew and rising to the rank of Purser on 747s but her favourite plane was always the VC10. Before she took early retirement just 4 years ago and she had visited nearly every country in the world and had many plans to continue her travels with her husband, Mike, a Senior Manager with the Laing-O'Rouke construction company.
They moved to Pakenham 12 years ago and married soon after, both for the first time. Ilona immersed herself in village life, and often said she was busier after retiring than when she was flying. She joined the Pakenham Players Amateur Dramatic Group, and her early parts included a Playing Card in Alice in Wonderland, and a Tree in Robin Hood, but she soon got the acting bug and took larger roles including the evil but memorable Morgana in Cinderalla. For the past 3 years she was Chairman and was looking forward to steering to Group towards a new home with improved facilities, as the new Village Hall is due to be built later this year. She was always helping with a wide variety of Village events including this year's Jubilee events (dressed up as a clown) and organising the annual Treasure Hunt with Mike, with the customary devious twists and turns but always ensuring that this was a fun family event. She was a great organiser and took several of her friends to the Gardeners World Exhibition at the NEC on the day before she was admitted to hospital.
At her cremation on July 5th, her closest friend and BA colleague, Patricia Pearce MBE, spoke movingly to a fittingly packed house with standing room only. Pat was the founder of the Charity 'Dreamflight', and recalled how Ilona had been a member of several Dreamflight crews taking incurably ill, sick and disabled children to Orlando for 10 days for a special and for some, their only holiday. Ilona was involved in fundraising not only for Dreamflight but also for the Bobby Moore Cancer Charity and donated to the local St Nicholas' Hospice. Pat concluded: "I have my treasured memories and I know that all of you are going to have your special ones too. Isn't it lucky that we had something special that money can't buy, a joy that was real and remains to the end, the joy of having Ilona, as your relative or friend".
Barbara Westgate, who for the last 6 years has co-directed all of Pakenham Players Pantomimes, also spoke at the funeral, remembering Ilona as someone for whom nothing was too much trouble. She remarked "a Pakenham resident said to me, I can't remember someone's death affecting so many people in the village before. That was Ilona's greatest legacy, that she touched so many lives and will be remembered with fondness by all of them".
Ilona was young by modern standards at 55 and ironically took great care of her health and helped others whenever she had the chance. She even met the Beatles and appeared on 'Ready Steady Go' in the 60's as well as assisting countless VIPs at Heathrow. While she was never short of an amusing story or anecdote about the rich and famous, she also picked up the litter around Pakenham when she was out and about. She was a member of many clubs and societies (including 'aqua-robics') and had the rare ability to light up a room whenever she came in. In nearly every photograph there is a beaming smile and a sense of fun and her wicked laugh was never far away.
Ilona asked in her Will that instead of flowers, any donations should go to Dreamflight and these can still be forwarded via Thurlows of Ixworth.