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Capt. Sir Tom Moore, who raised millions to fight pandemic, dead at 100 after positive COVID-19 test

Capt. Sir Tom Moore, the British Second World War veteran who raised millions of pounds for health service workers on the front lines of the battle against the pandemic by walking 100 laps of his garden, has died at the age of 100 after being hospitalized with COVID-19, his family said.

U.K. Second World War veteran who became an emblem of hope by walking in his garden was hospitalized Sunday

Capt. Tom Moore, the 100-year-old Second World War veteran who captivated the British public in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic with his fundraising efforts, has died, his family said Tuesday. (Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

Capt. Sir Tom Moore, the Second World War veteran who walked into the hearts of a nation in lockdown as he shuffled up and down his garden to raise money for health-care workers, has died after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 100.

His family announced his death on Twitter, posting a picture of him behind his walker in a happy moment, ready for an adventure. 

"It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our dear father, Captain Sir Tom Moore," the family's statement said. 

Moore's daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, announced on Sunday that her father had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and said he needed "additional help" with his breathing. She said that Moore had been treated for pneumonia and had tested positive for COVID-19 last month. 

"The last year of our father's life was nothing short of remarkable," Tuesday's statement read. "He was rejuvenated and experienced things he'd only ever dreamed of. Whilst he'd been in so many hearts for just a short time, he was an incredible father and grandfather, and he will stay alive in our hearts forever."

Flags were lowered at Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street office Tuesday. The British leader described Moore as a "hero in the truest sense of the word."

Captain Tom, as he became known in newspaper headlines and TV interviews, set out to raise 1,000 pounds for Britain's National Health Service by walking 100 laps of his backyard garden. But his quest went viral and caught the imagination of millions stuck at home during the first wave of the pandemic.

Donations poured in from across Britain and as far away as North America and Japan, raising some 33 million pounds ($58 million Cdn).

For three weeks in April, fans were greeted with daily videos of Moore, stooped with age, doggedly pushing his walker in the garden. But it was his sunny attitude during a dark moment that inspired people to look beyond illness and loss.

"Please always remember, tomorrow will be a good day," Moore said in an interview during his walk, uttering the words that became his trademark.

When Moore finished his 100th lap on April 16, a military honour guard lined the path. The celebration continued on his birthday a few days later, when two Second World War-era fighter planes flew overhead in tribute.

Moore, a plaid blanket draped over his shoulders, pumped a fist as they roared past.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth

In July, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in a physically distanced ceremony at Windsor Castle, west of London.

The 94-year-old monarch used an impossibly long sword to confer the honour as Moore, wearing his wartime medals on his chest, leaned on his walker and beamed.

"I have been overwhelmed by the many honours I have received over the past weeks, but there is simply nothing that can compare to this," he tweeted after the ceremony. "I am overwhelmed with pride and joy."

Queen Elizabeth has planned a private message of condolence to the family, Buckingham Palace said.

"Her Majesty very much enjoyed meeting Capt. Sir Tom and his family at Windsor last year," the palace said in a statement. "Her thoughts, and those of the Royal Family, are with them, recognizing the inspiration he provided for the whole nation and others across the world."

Drafted into army

Born in Keighley, West Yorkshire, on April 30, 1920, Moore completed an apprenticeship in civil engineering before being drafted into the army during the early months of the Second World War.

After being selected for officer training, he rose to the rank of captain while serving in India, Burma and Sumatra.

After leaving the army in 1946, Moore went to work for the family construction firm. He later became a salesman and then a manager for building materials companies.

When the concrete company he was working for was threatened with closure, Moore rounded up a group of investors and bought it, preserving 60 jobs.

A man leaves flowers at the entrance of Moore's home in Marston Moretaine near Milton Keynes, Britain, on Tuesday after his family announced that the centenarian fundraiser had died. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Along the way, he divorced his first wife and fell in love with his employer's office manager, Pamela. The couple married, had two daughters and eventually retired to Spain, but returned to England after Pamela became ill.

Moore's wife died in 2006, and he moved to the village of Marston Mortaine in Bedfordshire to live with his younger daughter, Hannah, and her family.

Family challenge sparked fundraiser

The former motorcycle racer finally slowed down after he fell and broke his hip in 2018. A walker replaced the Skoda Yeti he drove until he was 98, but he kept moving.

During a backyard barbecue in early April of last year, Moore's family challenged him to walk the entire length of the 25-metre driveway.

After he made it to the end, his son-in-law encouraged him to keep going, offering to pay one pound for every lap and suggesting a goal of 100 laps by Moore's 100th birthday.

Things snowballed from there.

Moore thought he might be able to raise 1,000 pounds for the doctors and nurses who took care of him after he broke his hip, and his family used social media to publicize "Captain Tom Moore's 100th birthday walk for the NHS."

A local radio reporter called first, then national broadcasters. Soon, international media were waiting outside the garden gate.

Moore walked 100 laps of his garden during the first national lockdown last year, raising some 33 million pounds ($58 million Cdn) for Britain's National Health Service. (Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

As he pushed his walker up and down the path, people facing the first lockdown of the pandemic watched online. Soon #TomorrowWillBeAGoodDay was trending on Twitter.

"People told me that there was something about my little walk that captured the hearts of those still in shock at the crisis," Moore wrote in his autobiography.

"With a rising number of deaths and the prospect of months of lockdown, everyone was desperate for good news. Apparently, a 99-year-old former Army captain who'd fought in Burma, was recovering from a broken hip, and doing his bit for the NHS was just what they needed."

WATCH | Captain Tom describes being knighted by the Queen:

Captain Tom Moore calls knighthood 'absolutely outstanding'

CBC News

9 months ago
7:57
The 100-year-old Second World War vet describes the experience of being tapped on the shoulders by Queen Elizabeth with her knighting sword. 7:57

Prince Harry, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and dozens of celebrities cheered for him.

But it was the public that embraced Captain Tom the most, flooding the village post office with some 6,000 gifts and 140,000 birthday cards.

Moore marvelled that anyone would spend two pounds on a card for him, and then put on a mask to wait in line at a post office to mail it.

He was made an honorary member of the England cricket team, had a train named after him, and was recognized with the Freedom of the City of London award.

'I can't keep walking forever'

Moore enjoyed the accolades but remained focused on others.

He dedicated his autobiography, Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day, to "all those who serve on the front line of any battle — be it military, psychological or medical."

In the end, Moore urged the public to look after one another, and he thanked the country he inspired for inspiring him.

"I felt a little frustrated and disappointed after I broke my hip and it knocked my confidence," he said after completing his trek.

"However, the past three weeks have put a spring back in my step. I have renewed purpose and have thoroughly enjoyed every second of this exciting adventure, but I can't keep walking forever."

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