Friends pay tribute to former Hackney hero who died saving his son

Tony Wilkinson died after trying to save his son

Tony Wilkinson died after trying to save his son - Credit: Archant

Friends this week paid tribute to a former Hackney “hero” who drowned after rescuing his son while on holiday in Jamaica.

Tony Wilkinson, 49, who lived in Clapton until last year, died after trying to save his four-year-old son who was pulled out to sea as he paddled in the waves.

The incident happened in Calabash Bay in Jamaica while he was on holiday with his partner, Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead – who he met in Hackney – and their two sons aged three and four on May 15.

His family released a statement, saying: “Tony swam out and rescued him. Decca swam out and brought their son to shore but the current was too strong for Tony to swim back, and despite the efforts of local fishermen who swam out to help, he drowned before they could get him back to shore.”

The outreach worker for youth charity Kids Company set up and ran an organic deli, Heroes in Nature, in Broadway Market, London Fields, from 2000 to 2003.

Friend Byron Calloo, 43, who has known him for 24 years, said: “It’s still a bit raw. He was a great person, a lovely guy and very caring and helpful.

“He would do anything for anybody. I’ve seen him give homeless people £50 notes while in the West End.

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“Regardless of whether it was his son or a stranger, he would have saved them.

“He was the type of person who would leave a mark and you could never forget. He was also ahead of his time.

“When he set up the deli, we thought it was a hair-brained scheme but he went for it and it was successful.”

Kelly Reid, 37, of Stoke Newington said: “It’s shocking. I’ve known Tony since I was 16. When he had his daughter Hero, I started being their nanny and would go on holidays with them.

“I was very close to Tony during my teenage years. When I turned 21, he organised a champagne birthday party.

‘Full of life’

“Everything about him was smiles and fun. He was full of life. Knowing that Tony is never going to be around with his loud voice and laughter is too sad.

“His daughter is called Hero, he had a deli called Heroes of Nature and he died a hero.”

Friend Janette Collins, 59, said: “The greatest moments of his life were when his children were born. He looked after my children when I was a single parent going to university. I could not ask for a better friend.

“I was really glad when he said he was going to work with young people. Although he was an entrepreneur, I always thought it was his vocation.

“He worked with the hardest-to-reach kids and the Kids Company changed his life.”