Published: 12:57, 08 June 2020
| Updated: 13:46, 08 June 2020
by Local Democracy Reporting Service
A bus driver from Medway who died with Covid-19 defied calls from his family to stop working during the pandemic because he was “proud” to be keeping the country going.
More than 200 people lined the streets as a double-decker displaying Richard Whitfield’s name in its destination blind joined the funeral procession from Bexleyheath bus garage where he worked to the crematorium.
The 56-year-old from the Isle of Grain on the Hoo Peninsula, had not taken a day off sick for 15 years before he was struck with coronavirus.
His sister Shelene Whitfield said: “Richard was the most lovable person. He was a larger than life character and a gentleman.
"It was amazing to see so many people line the streets for the procession. The garage organised so much. They weren’t just friends, he had a second family at work.”
The father-of-four suffered from diabetes and was on medication for blood pressure, which put him at risk of more severe symptoms.
Despite being placed in the vulnerable category he refused to stop working.
Mr Whitfield first started to feel unwell at the beginning of April and began self-isolating.
The bus driver was then taken to Medway Maritime Hospital after struggling to breathe on April 11, and died on April 30 after two weeks in intensive care.
His sister added: “He was proud of his job and he loved it. He had a mask and sanitiser that he provided himself. We did say he shouldn’t be at work, but he just said, ‘I’m a key worker and I have to get others to work.’”
Daughter Sarah, 39, said: “Dad’s death has devastated the family. He was a fantastic man and his funeral just showed how he was loved by so many.
"None of us wanted him to go into work during the pandemic and we were all telling him that. They are key workers, making sure everyone can get to work and need to be protected.”
Covid-19 has claimed the lives of 43 TfL staff members, including 33 bus workers.
The transport body said there will be an investigation into the deaths.
It comes after the government announced it will be mandatory for people to wear face coverings on public transport from next week Monday, June 15.
Tom Cunnington, head of bus business development at TfL, said: “My heartfelt condolences go to the friends and family of Mr Whitfield. He was a dedicated and popular member of the Go-Ahead team in Bexleyheath and he will be greatly missed.
“The safety of London’s bus drivers, who have played such a vital role in supporting the fight against coronavirus, is our absolute priority.”