'He made children’s dreams come true': Tributes paid to Wishing Well Dudley hospital volunteer
A Black Country volunteer champion who brought joy to thousands of sick children has died at the age of 60.
'Unsung hero' Steve Ford, who organised 'dreams come true' trips for patients on the children's ward at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley through his Wishing Well charity, was found dead at his Kingswinford home on Boxing Day.
He helped children achieve their utmost dreams, from meeting their favourite popstar or taking a ride in a race car, and also presented a weekly radio show to the hospital children's ward.
During the last few weeks of his life Mr Ford, whose real name was Steve Mukanovic, had been working with Dudley Council for Voluntary Service (DCVS) on the Operation Santa project to deliver gifts to local children.
Locals across the region have paid tribute to him following his death, after he helped so many grieving and struggling families through his charity.
Dave Brownhill, director of Black Country Festival and co-director of Black Country Radio, worked with him for more than 40 years and said he was 'shocked and saddened' to hear the news.
Mr Brownhill said: “I’ve known Steve for over 40 years as a volunteer at, first, The Guest Hospital and of course more recently at Russells Hall Hospital where he was almost a permanent fixture on the children’s ward.
”He would make children’s dreams come true. Anything from a Concorde ride to a racing car, anything a child wanted he would go out of his way to try and make their dream come true.
”He’ll be sadly missed.”
Mr Ford, who leaves behind one cousin, suffered from crippling arthritis since he was a young child, and underwent several operations throughout his life.
His illness meant he was often unable to leave his home - but still persevered with his charity work. He worked as a postman until the pain meant he could not carry on.
In a quirky tradition, he had exchanged the same Christmas card with a fellow postman in the area for more than 40 years - but refused to post it in case it was lost.
Eileen Fielding, of DCVS, which organises Operation Santa each year, had known Mr Ford for 19 years.
She described him as 'the loveliest man you could ever meet'.
"He really was one of the most lovely, genuine men," she said. "And I don't think he realised how much people loved him. He was warm, friendly, social and would do anything for anyone.
"He was one of my volunteer elves this year for Operation Santa and had been wrapping presents and entertaining the kids. Even with his bad arthritis he still wrapped the presents - he found a way. He just made such an impact, always laughing and joking.
"Just 100 per cent the nicest man. The outpouring of love for him is incredible. He was an absolute star."
Mr Ford presented a weekly show at Dudley Hospital Radio for the children's ward at Russells Hall Hospital for more than 30 years - and was known to thousands there.
He began volunteering at the radio in 1983, where he first met youngsters on the ward. He then started to collect requests for the station’s listeners, before launching his charity Wishing Well six years later.
He also won the Children and Families Award for his charity work at the Dudley Volunteer Awards in 2016 and also gave up his time as a volunteer minibus driver.
Former mayor of Dudley Councillor Steve Waltho said he was 'deeply saddened' to hear the news. The pair worked together on Operation Santa in Dudley just days before his death.
"It's devastating, a real terrible shock to those in the charity community," said Councillor Waltho. "He was such a lovely, likeable guy.
"He was one of those people I had heard of a lot, and admired from afar, but had only met him a few times.
"He was an unsung hero. I'm involved quite a lot in the Queen's Honours system and I know his name had been mentioned, which makes it a real tragedy. I'm just deeply saddened."
Mr Ford's funeral details are yet to be announced.