Family tribute to ‘gentle giant’ of Leeds’s streets

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A homeless man who died in the days before Christmas was a “gentle giant”, his niece has said after an outpouring of warm tributes.

Nigel Whalley, 50, would often stand outside the Merrion Centre and was known for coming to the rescue of mothers struggling down the steps with their pushchairs.

Floral tributes have been laid at the spot where Nigel used to stand

Floral tributes have been laid at the spot where Nigel used to stand

Flowers and cards have appeared at the site in recent days, with many honouring his memory and paying tribute to a “true gentlemen”.

Now his niece Jessie Wood has spoken about the man she knew, a father, brother and uncle whose life had spiralled after a marriage breakdown.

“He didn’t realise how loved he was,” she said. “I don’t think he ever felt good enough for anybody, and that’s why he always tried to help others out.

“He did want help himself, but he was too proud.”

Mr Whalley, known as ‘Uncle Pirate’ to her children, had been brought up in Seacroft, one of 11 children including one brother and nine sisters. He had also lived in Cottingley, she said, but had become homeless after the breakdown of a marriage. He leaves a son.

Miss Wood, 35 and from Beeston, would see her uncle almost every day and take him food. But he always struggled to accept help, she said. While he had been given a flat just weeks before his death, it was empty and he had never stayed there.

“He preferred to be with everybody in town,” she said. “That was his life, that’s how it’s always been. He was a gentle giant. He cared more for everyone else than he did for himself.”