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Alistair Stenton of Ellon: Aviation expert and charity fundraiser dies aged 62

He had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in August last year but didn’t want anyone to know.

Alistair beside aviation paintings.
Alistair Stenton took part in Brave this year. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

One of the north-east’s most committed charity fundraisers and aviation experts has lost his battle against cancer.

Alistair Stenton, who spent 45 years working at Dyce and Sumburgh airports in senior operational roles, died in Roxburghe House, Aberdeen, on August 29, aged 62.

Brave catwalk star

In May he starred in this year’s spectacular Brave catwalk show in Aberdeen.

The event at the Beach Ballroom raised more than £166,000 for Friends of Anchor which supports cancer patients and their families.

Alistair had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in August last year but didn’t want anyone to know.

It was only when medical supplies were delivered to his home in Ellon that his wife Moira persuaded him to finally tell friends and family.

Alistair taking part in Brave earlier this year.. Aberdeen.

“Incredibly the delivery driver was Alistair’s own cousin” said Moira, “so it wasn’t a secret any longer.”

But even after that surprise Alistair kept things low key.

He waited until April, eight months after the diagnosis, to tell his brothers John and Andrew, who live in Bangkok and Glasgow respectively.

Thinking of others

“He apologised for not telling me earlier, saying he didn’t want to worry me” said Andrew. “If I’d been in his position I must admit I probably wouldn’t have told anyone either.”

Alistair Stenton and his wife, Moira. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

But for Moira it was a very stressful time having to keep quiet about Alistair’s condition.

“Why don’t men open up when faced with such situations?” asked Andrew.

“I think now, especially with the help of groups like Friends of Anchor and the staging of that wonderful Brave event, the old attitude and reluctance to speak up is changing, and the sooner the better.”

Moira says Alistair fell in love with Friends of Anchor from the word go. “He could see the positives and wanted to do whatever he could to support them.”

Alistair’s charity for children

It’s not the only charity Alistair and his wife have been heavily involved with.

Twenty years ago they established the Zoe-Lee Foundation, in memory of Moira’s niece who died of leukaemia in South Africa just days before what would have been her second birthday.

Moira discovered a chronic shortage of space in Cape Town hospitals where Zoe-Lee was treated for families of patients travelling long distances to visit them.

Alistair and Moira in shirts promoting the Zoe Lee Foundation.
Alistair and Moira launching the Zoe Lee Foundation in honour of their niece who died of leukaemia in 2005.

The couple decided they would take over and renovate a building that could be used by the Red Cross Children’s Hospital to provide accommodation for those relatives.

They posted letters through every door in Ellon. Alistair wrote to oil companies, major businesses, hotel owners, politicians and celebrities. He also managed to secure airtime with NorthSound Radio DJ Damien McLeod.

“The response was incredible” said Moira. “Alistair even got a reply from television newsreader Trevor McDonald. He said although he couldn’t be a patron of the Zoe-Lee Foundation he wished him every success.”

Success story

And a success it was. Moira and others ran the London Marathon to raise funds.
The accommodation facility has been fully functional for years now, helping hundreds of families.

And its Scottish connection will never be forgotten. It bears a plaque naming the Zoe-Lee Foundation.

“This was a quite remarkable achievement” said brother Andrew. “An Ellon couple setting up a charity to help children with leukaemia in South Africa? Alistair was obviously very good at engaging with people from all walks of life to get their support. It was in his nature.”

Putting others first

It’s that good nature, generosity, and kindness that his wife Moira, daughter Nicole, son-in-law Michael, grandchildren Lucas, Theo and Oscar, will miss most.

Work colleagues at Aberdeen and Sumburgh airports, flight crews, technicians and operators around the world remember Alistair with great fondness and appreciation.

“He was quite simply the best to work with…an absolute joy,” said one.

Alistair had an encyclopaedic knowledge of plane and helicopter operations.

He was on shift for some of the major incidents in the oil industry including the 1986 Chinook disaster, Piper Alpha in 1988 and the Braer tanker grounding in 1993.

The Yorkshire-born but staunch Scot began his working life in 1979 with Alidair at Sumburgh before it became British Air Ferries.

He was responsible for coordinating flights for Shell, and charter services, ensuring everything ran smoothly.

After his move to Aberdeen in 1986 he was with Business Air which became British Midland and eventually BMI Regional. His final switch was to Babcock, now Offshore Helicopter Services.

Love for fishing

Alistair’s main love after Moira and family and work colleagues, was fishing. Just months before the cancer really took over he managed his last annual fishing trip with Chris Massie, a fireman he worked with at Sumburgh. They went to Loch Watten in Caithness.

“Alistair was struggling at that stage,” said Moira, “but I’m so happy he went. He was determined his condition wouldn’t stop him doing what he enjoyed doing.

“And I’ll be forever grateful to Chris for making sure it did happen.”

On the journey from Ellon they called in to Petty Church near Inverness airport so Alistair could spend time at his parents’ memorial stone.

“We always stopped there,” said Chris, “but this year we stayed longer.”

Alistair’s funeral is at Dyce Parish church on Wednesday September 13 at noon, the same church Alistair and Moira got married in almost 24 years ago.

It will be followed by a short cremation at Hazlehead and a gathering for happy memories at The Chester Hotel, Queen’s Road, Aberdeen around 1.30pm.

All are welcome. Donations can be made to Friends of Anchor and Friends of Roxburghe House.

You can read the family’s announcement here