Sunderland’s Face of Courage has paid tribute to the mother who was her rock.
Michelle Willis was born with a tumour where her right eye should have been.
Doctors wanted to put her into a home, but parents Linda and Thomas were determined their only child would lead as normal a life as possible and supported her through years of painful operations to rebuild her face.
Now Linda has died of cancer, at the age of 67, just three days after helping Michelle celebrate a landmark birthday.
“She was diagnosed with cancer on November 18 last year,” said Michelle, of Hall Farm. “I have never seen anybody fight so hard in my life. I was 50 on August 27 and I said ‘she is holding on for that.’
“She died on August 30. She was determined to be there for my birthday.”
She put her heart and soul into fighting for me to have a normal life and not to be discriminated against.Michelle Willis
The people of Sunderland took Michelle to their hearts when the Echo told her story in 1986 and raised thousands of pounds to fund operations.
When the DVLA revoked Michelle’s driving licence three years ago, Linda threw herself into the campaign to get it back. “I was hoping for it to be resolved before she passed away, but unfortunately, it has not,” said Michelle.
Linda worked at Chaston’s Chemists after leaving school, then Newble’s wool shop in Ryhope. She spent time at Pyrex and was a shop manager for the North East Electricity Board before joining Gentoo.
Linda’s loss is a devastating blow for Michelle: “She put her heart and soul into fighting for me to have a normal life and not to be discriminated against,” said community nurse Michelle.
A funeral service will be held at St Matthew’s Church, Silksworth, at 2.45pm tomorrow.