Sunderland has bid an emotional farewell to one of its most proud and passionate daughters.
Tributes have poured in from home and away to agony aunt Denise Robertson, 83, who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.
Sunderland born and bred, Denise remained living in East Boldon despite her success on the London-based TV show This Morning, regularly making trips to and from the capital to help comfort viewers.
In mid-February, Denise announced she was taking a break from the daytime show after a shock cancer diagnosis, but said she hoped to be back on the sofa soon.
Today it was announced she’d lost her short battle while undergoing treatment at Royal Marsden Hospital, London.
SAFC were among those to pay tribute to the Black Cats supporter, who’d attended matches since she was a teenager.
A spokesman from the club said: “Everyone at SAFC is deeply saddened to hear that TV’s Denise Robertson has passed away. Denise was a passionate and dedicated Sunderland fan and had followed the lads since attending her first game as a teenager at Roker Park.
“She was ambassador for the club’s charity and a great supporter of the north east region as a whole. She will be greatly missed and the thoughts of everyone at the football club are with her friends and family at this time.”
Over the years, Denise became one of the city’s most high profile and energetic ambassadors, lending her support to countless regional charities including the Foundation of Light, Bubble Foundation, St Cuthbert’s Hospice, St Benedict’s Hospice, the PDSA and the Carers’ Centre.
She also threw her weight behind local campaigns, such as supporting victims of domestic violence, attempts to save Sunderland High School and the fundraising to make WWI statue Tommy a permanent feature in Seaham, where she once lived.
As well as being a great support to people in need in her role as an agony aunt, Denise was the author of numerous books, plays, magazine and newspaper articles, using her great communications skills to share her ideas and feelings with others.
Some of the greatest honours awarded in recognition of her work include being given an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and being given Freedom of the City by Sunderland Council in 2006. In 1998, she was also named as Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham.
Coun Harry Trueman said: “Denise was a familiar figure to us all with her heartfelt and honest advice. She always shared her ideas and feelings with others and, in doing so, she helped give hope and inspiration to thousands of people.
“In June 2006 she received the Freedom of the City because of her outstanding contributions to community life in Sunderland. She was a great ambassador for the city, an avid support of many charities, both regionally and nationally, and she never forgot her roots.”
Charities across the city have paid their own tribute to Denise’s empathy for others.
Graham Burt, chief executive officer from Sunderland Carers’ Centre, of which Denise was a patron, said: “Denise was our patron for the last 20 years and has been a wonderful ambassador in raising the profile of carers in Sunderland, particularly young carers having inspired them to write their Rainbows and Rollercoasters book and recently helping us promote our Young Carers Challenge campaign. Her family are in our thoughts at this sad time.”
Denise had joined ITV’s This Morning for its first ever broadcast in 1988, and the show has led tributes to one of their most familiar faces.
Presenter Phillip Schofield said: “I’m heartbroken at the passing of our This Morning icon Denise Robertson. Kind, thoughtful, caring and wonderful.”
Meanwhile, fellow presenter Eamonn Holmes donned a red and white scarf on today’s show to pay tribute to Denise’s passion for the Black Cats.
Denise’s family, including husband Bryan and son Mark, have also paid their tribute. In a statement, the family said: “It is with the deepest possible sorrow that we announce the passing of a very great lady. Our dearest Denise Robertson lost her short battle with cancer today at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
“We send our gratitude to the many thousands of people who have sent message of love, support and prayers during these difficult weeks, these sustained and delighted her immeasurably.
“The care Denise received from Professor Cunningham, Dr Tait and all the staff at the hospital was above and beyond anything we could have hoped for.
“The world has lost an extraordinary woman. We know that her ITV family, the This Morning viewers and the incalculable numbers of people she has helped and causes she has championed during her 83 years, will be grieving with us at this intensely painful time.”
Echo readers have also paid tribute to Denise
Father Marc Lyden-Smith, from St Mary’s Church, said: “Sad news about Denise Robertson, a much loved and respected daughter of Sunderland, and rightly proud of her roots. May she rest in peace.”
Paul Wigham wrote on our Facebook page: “Really nice lady RIP and a true Sunderland supporter.”
Vicky Trotman said: “Been in tears watching This Morning, you forget just how funny she was as well as being an all round great woman. She will be missed.”
Imogen Higgins said: “Denise put our lovely Sunderland team and city on the map. RIP. Great tribute on This Morning.”
Angela Fjoran shared her memories of Denise: “I used to see her often on the train between Newcastle and London Kings Cross. She was always smiling and happy and spoke to everyone and I always thought she must get tired of people recognising her, but she never seemed to mind.”
June Wintrip said: “So sorry to hear of Denise Robertson’s passing. I had the pleasure to meet her through her connections with Sunderland Carers Centre. She was a lovely caring lady. Condolences to her family.”
Rob tweeted: “Denise was our true Angel of the North.”