Tragic last ride for beloved Albany woman Chris Rees
Chris Rees spent her final moments holding hands with the love of her life on an adventure in an exotic, far-flung country.
She was lying in the back of a cattle truck on her way to the nearest hospital with her husband Bob, who had a broken back, pelvis, leg and hand.
Her injuries were less obvious, but more serious.
Thrown from their motorcycle when a car smashed into them on a narrow bridge in Malawi on the morning of July 19, their tour of Africa had taken a tragic turn.
Mr Rees was still holding his wife’s hand when her life slipped from his grasp about halfway along the bumpy five-hour journey to Mzuzu Hospital.
He said they spent those precious final moments “telling each other how much they loved each other”.
Speaking from a hospital bed in Johannesburg last Friday, with no feeling below his waist, the Albany man said he would never let go of those memories.
“She had the most beautiful look on her face and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” Mr Rees said.
“Not just peacefulness, but serenity. She just looked fabulous, even a bit of a smile.
“Then I was grieving. I was really grieving quite badly and I was in a lot of pain on this bouncy road. But she kept me going because I thought ‘We can’t both die’, we’ve got our daughters and our grandkids. So I kept living.”
The driver of the car which struck their motorcycle — and another motorcycle behind them — was arrested at the scene and later charged with dangerous driving causing death.
It is understood Mrs Rees died of organ failure secondary to trauma.
The crash brought a sudden end to a classic love story.
Bob and Chris were soul mates — and there are plenty of people in Albany who could attest to that.
They met at the Tropicana Nightclub on a Saturday night and agreed to catch up the next morning at the Esplanade Hotel.
Mr Rees had a bit of trouble remembering what she looked like, but he got there in the end and they never looked back.
After 47 years of marriage, they were still finding new roads to travel in their retirement years.
Their latest motorcycle getaway, which should have taken them from Cape Town to Zanzibar, was one of many in recent years.
“We were best mates and lovers,” Mr Rees said.
“There were no greater friends than us. We just loved each other in every way. I would do anything for her and vice versa.
“She was so good to me with me and my motorbikes. We just had a lot of fun together.”
Mrs Rees, 72, was a mother to Katrina Rees and Alex Wells, and a devoted grandmother to Zachary, Hannah, Griffin and Austin.
She worked as the practice nurse at Southern Regional Medical Group for 36 years.
Her daughter, Mrs Wells, followed her into the medical profession.
“I work at the (Albany) hospital, in the high-dependency unit, and so many people I get through there know my mum,” Mrs Wells said.
“People would just ring her up and ask her questions. She always had time for everybody.
“She had a lot of patients — in both senses of the word.”
Mrs Rees was the membership secretary of the Albany Vintage and Classic Motorcycle Club, which her husband started 20 years ago.
She was also an avid member of the Granny Grommets, a group of senior women who brave the cold at Middleton Beach once a week to catch some waves.
Mrs Wells takes some comfort from knowing her parents enjoyed their last days together and were lying next to each other at the end.
“I know it’s a cliche but yes, they were doing what they loved. What better way to go than lying in the back of a truck staring up at an African sky with your soul mate,” she said.
The daughters flew to Africa to be with their parents after the crash.
Katrina Rees, who lives in Perth, said her mother was a vibrant woman who loved nature and had passed on her sense of determination.
“She just had so much get up and go,” Katrina said.
“She walked 55km along the Bibbulmun Track in May with two of her friends, which is just incredible.”
But it was the quiet moments at home with her children and their “gran” that she would miss most.
“The morning wake-ups when Mum and Dad would come and stay with us. We would just sit around with a cup of tea, the kids hugging up to their gran while we talked about everything,” she said.
“She was such a soft, caring lady. We’re going to miss her.”
Mr Rees, who worked as a compositor at this newspaper for many years, is hoping to return to WA in the next two weeks.
He has undergone spinal fusion surgery and will likely need extensive rehabilitation in Perth.
The family will make an announcement about a memorial service for Mrs Rees in the Albany Advertiser.
Rather than sending flowers or gifts, Mr Rees is asking supporters to donate to Malawi’s hospitals, where he received fantastic service despite the lack of resources.
“I’d like to come back here in a couple of years time and bring my kids and grandkids to go where Chris was,” he said.
“And I’d like to go to that hospital and make sure the money has gone to the right place.”
Bank details for the fund are 182512 (BSB) and 967304486 (account number).
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails