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Family pays tribute to ‘gentle giant’ David who died during Storm Arwen

a collection of images of David Lapage
David Lapage. Image: Supplied by Cath Fraser

David Lapage, 35, died during Storm Arwen, killed after he dropped off his children at their grandparent’s house just as the ferocious winds overwhelmed Aberdeenshire.

While driving his Nissan Navara pick-up truck along the B977 Dyce to Hatton of Fintray Road an overhanging tree branch fell and struck his car.

According to his mum Cath Fraser, 53, and step-dad Graeme Fraser, 52, David had been quick to head back out into the storm having seen debris blocking the roads. He wanted to help in case anyone got hurt.

Now, one year on and for the very first time, his family share details of David’s life, describing him as a “gentle giant” who doted on his family and who held a deep love for fishing and the sea.

A fisherman at heart

David Ross Lapage was born on September 10, 1986, in Inverness before growing up in Longhaven and attending Peterhead Academy. This was right next to Peterhead Harbour which would soon become one of David’s favourite places in the world.

From a very young age David was obsessed with fishing and boats.

“He was always fishing, always by the sea, always down at the beach,” said his mum Cath.

Cath reminisced that like most kids David loved drawing but only ever drew one thing – boats and had a burning ambition to become a fisherman like his late father, David Lapage Snr.

David Lapage on a fishing boat
David Lapage, 35, died after his Nissan Navara pick-up was struck on the B977 Dyce to Hatton Fintry Road.

Claire Forsyth, 32, who has two children with David, said it was clear from their first date that David was “passionate about boats and fishing”.

“Sometimes we would be at the pier at Fraserburgh and see the mast of a boat coming in from the distance and David would know exactly which boat it was before you could see the name or the colour, he would just know,” she said.

As soon as he was 16 David began studying fishing at the former Banff and Buchan College.

David grew into a strong man, standing 6ft foot 1in and “not a lad you’d want to mess with” according to his step-dad Graeme.

He was described as a “brawny fisherman” and a hard worker who never shied away from manual labour.

David Lapage with a drawing of a fishing boat
David Lapage with a drawing of a fishing boat. Image: Supplied by Claire Forsyth

David also played as hard as he worked, according to his family. He was a prankster, full of fun with a zest for life.

Claire laughs as she recalls, not long after they had met, waking up one morning to find “a live lobster being shoved in my face”.

A familiar face at Aberdeenshire harbours

He would go on to work on boats across the country, fulfilling his dreams, working at his favourite harbours from Fraserburgh to Peterhead to Moray.

David would build an especially strong connection to Fraserburgh Harbour where he was a popular and friendly face.

Even outside work David would spend his spare time there with his children teaching them fishing and about the boats in the harbour.

Before he died, his family said he was excited about a new fishing job in Inveraray catching lobsters, prawns and crab. He was returning to see his family after his first week away when tragedy hit.

David had previously spoken to The Press and Journal about lobster fishing – demonstrating his passion for the subject.

Cath said: “He was in a really good place” before he died.

Cath Fraser and Graeme Fraser looking at a picture of their son
Pictured are Cath Fraser and Graeme Fraser. Image: Chris Sumner / DC Thomson

Family always came first

David had two children, Oliver and Eilidh who are now six and nine.

David was the kind of dad who “lived for his children”, taking them on holidays across the country.

David Lapage and his two children, Oliver and Eilidh
David Lapage and his two children, Oliver and Eilidh. Image: Supplied by Claire Forsyth

Perhaps the most significant demonstration of love for his children was when he sacrificed his love for the sea for them.

When both his children were born David left his career as a fisherman to take jobs on land, in order to be able to come home to his children every night.

He left a job he loved but a job that often kept him away for weeks at a time.

Fishing was always in his heart.”

Claire Forsyth

But as his children grew up David felt the sea call to him.

Claire said: “I think he liked (working on land) but fishing was always in his heart.
“The sea was always calling him back so he did get a job on a boat in Fraserburgh. But it was a creel boat, so he was in and out every day. He wasn’t away for long trips. He liked to be at home to see the kids at night.”

Oliver said that his favourite memory was “playing PlayStation with dad” as well as having nerf fights in their house.

Eilidh said she loved “the holidays where there was always a swimming pool”.

Claire added: “He loved going on family holidays usually to places with a swimming pool or a hot tub. He’d be the biggest kid with the three.”

His children keep a box of treasured memories of him. It contains his favourite aftershave, deodorant, one of David’s t-shirts and photo albums his children made of his life.

Eilidh, mum Claire and Oliver on the sofa
From left, Eilidh Lapage, mum Claire Forsyth and Oliver Lapage. Image: Paul Glendell / DC Thomson

Claire and the children still live in Rosehearty and visit Fraserburgh Harbour all the time.

Claire said: “We just try to remember how he was. We speak with him every day. The kids love to look through their memory boxes and love to speak about daddy. I am very grateful to have had David in my life and we will never forget how much of a fun and loving partner and dad he was.”

Campaigning for change in David’s memory

David also held a passionate support for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and was known for never going past a RNLI charity box without donating.

On three occasions he took part in the Boxing Day charity swim for the RNLI.

David taking part in the RNLI Boxing Day Dip
David Lapage taking part in the RNLI Boxing Day Dip. Supplied by Claire Forsyth

Claire said: “He just was really passionate about the lifeboats. A lot (of) his friends had been helped by them and he was good friends with all the crew at Fraserburgh.”

Next spring, David’s name will be written on the hull of a new RNLI Lifeboat as part the “RNLI Launch a Memory”.

What happened to David has been seen as a tragic accident during an unprecedented storm.

David left his family that night to see if he could help others. In his memory, Cath would like to do the same.

“I would like to see it made law that over hanging branches are cut back from public roads. That’s the next step. What else can I do in his name?”

Graeme added: “We feel there should be some kind of post mortem after Storm Arwen given how much tree damage there was. What does it say about where trees should be in proximity to roads?

He was a great big guy who’s left a great big hole in so many lives.”

Cath Fraser

Cath and Graeme plan to campaign for more action against overhanging tree branches, potentially launching a petition in the future.

Currently, Aberdeenshire Council has the authority to ask landowners to cut back branches and can carry out the work themselves if the owner fails. The public can also contact the council to complain or report any vegetation they feel is dangerous.

Cath said: “It’s just something else I’m trying to achieve. So, no other family has to go through this.”

For Cath, she feels fighting for change and continuing David’s passions helps her ensure David’s memory and legacy lives on.

Cath has also raised £435 for RNLI through the 300k steps challenge this November.

Cath said: “He was a great big guy who’s left a great big hole in so many lives.”