Pensioner, 86, dubbed ‘Mr Christmas’ dies from bowel cancer 24 hours before switch on

A pensioner, 86, dubbed ‘Mr Christmas’ for covering his house with light display every year, died from bowel cancer, just 24 hours before switch on.  

Dave Edwards, 86, has been known in his village of Croxley Green, Watford,for covering his house with lights for the past 42 years. 

The grandfather-of two has been adding more lights every year turning his home and garden into a Christmas wonderland.  

Mr Edwards had raised hundreds of pounds for charities over the years, as hundreds of people traditionally gathered in the street to watch the switch-on event.   

This year’s switch on was different, as ‘Mr Christmas’ sadly died just the day before, his daughter decided to fullfill her father’s wish and switched on his light display last night.   

This year his daughter Sharon Markham turned on the Christmas lights in his place. Pictured with her daughters Aimee Markham, 13 (left) and Kiara Markham, 16 (right)

Mr Edwards was tragically diagnosed just last month with advanced bowel cancer, and his health had rapidly deteriorated.

His daughter Sharon Markham, 50, turned on the Christmas lights in her father’s place on Saturday evening – after he had made her promise she would if he didn’t make it.

Mrs Markham, the mother of Mr Edward’s two grandchildren Kiara, 16, and Aimee, 13, said: ‘The switch on went as well as it could, despite the rain.

‘It was a really difficult day. I was so numb and am in shock still which is probably what got me through it all.

The switch on event had become a tradition for the people of Croxley Green, as hundreds would gather every year to watch it

The switch on event had become a tradition for the people of Croxley Green, as hundreds would gather every year to watch it 

‘My dad was such an amazing man, the community has been devastated and the tributes that have been flooding in are just breath-taking.

‘We had a nine foot Christmas tree donated and people have been queuing for three days to hang ornaments on it – there’s been so many that we’ve had to decorate other trees on the lawn and hang some from above the driveway too.

‘Dad never got to see the tree but we did tell him about it and he said it was ‘marvellous’. He could hear people queuing outside so he still felt a part of it.

‘I know how much this all would have meant to him. He really was a true hero.

‘Heaven has gained an angel and now he’s back with my mum, Mrs Christmas, and they can begin lighting up Heaven together.’

Dave Edwards and his daughter Sharon Markham

Dave Edwards and his daughter Sharon Markham

Mrs Markham remembers she was just eight years old when her father began his eye-catching Christmas displays on the house. 

The tradition began as he competed in a lights display competition with a house across the street, she recalled.

But neighbours and locals soon came to love and expect his colourful and extraordinary displays – and they became a popular attraction and event to kick-off the Christmas period.

Mrs Markham and her husband Paul, who have been helping him organise the event for the last 20 years, have even arranged for celebrities to do the light switch-on in past years, including X-Factor 2017 winners, Rak-Su.

Sharon joked: ‘As a teenager I used to be really embarrassed by all this.

‘Everyone knew my house as the Christmas house, and I would come home and find the driveway full of people trying to get a look inside the house, to see if it was as decked-out as the outside.’

But over the years, she has grown to love her father’s wacky tradition.

She said: ‘It gets bigger and better every year.

The grandfather-of two has been adding more lights every year

The grandfather-of two has been adding more lights every year

‘We usually have an amazing grotto in the garden, and we raise money for different charities – Dogs Trust, homeless shelters, food banks.

‘We usually have about 2000 people coming out to see the lights.’

This year, of course, the event was a scaled-back, family affair due to Covid – and was instead live-streamed on the ‘Mr Christmas Fundraising Lights’ Facebook page.

Mrs Markham organised a ‘fake’ light switch-on for her dad’s neighbours a couple of weeks ago, so he had one last chance to turn on the lights that were such a big part of his life.

And the video of that was available to view by his 2,500 Facebook followers at the same time as Sharon turned on the lights.

Meanwhile, some of Sharon’s closest friends have set up a GoFundme page to help support Sharon and her family after ‘Mr Christmas’ passed away.

Mrs Markham  had organised an early light switch-on because of her father's ill health

Mrs Markham  had organised an early light switch-on because of her father’s ill health

Sharon’s friend Amber Clarke has been going to the light switch-on events at the ‘Christmas house’ since she was four years old – and now takes her five children.

She said: ‘I don’t think there’s been a year that I’ve missed. It’s just something you take for granted in Croxley.

‘I never thought I wouldn’t be able to go to the Christmas house again.

‘Dave has done so much for everybody in the community – we just wanted to start this fundraiser as a way to thank him, by helping his family and taking some of the pressure off after he dies.’

Amber added: ‘It’s been amazing. So many local businesses have donated. We’ve raised over £300 in just two days – it’s gone mad.’

And Sharon now hopes to be able to use the fundraising money to save the ‘Christmas house’ and keep it in the family – so they can carry on putting on Christmas lights displays in her dad’s memory.

She said: ‘This house means everything to me. I really want to find the funds to keep it going.’

HM Lord-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Robert Voss CBE described Dave as a ‘hero’ and a ‘a real kind star’.

Sending Sharon his condolences, he said: ‘We are so very sorry to hear this sad news.

‘Your dad was one of a kind – a real star and, in my eyes, a hero. It was an honour and privilege to have known him – albeit for too short a time.

‘What Dave gave to the community around him in terms of pleasure and raising so much for so many causes is something you should be immensely proud of.

‘Dave Edwards are a rarity in this world. May he rest in peace.’