Victim Steve’s trust helps Tsunami island

Denise Magson has set up a trust in her husband Stephen's  memory.
Denise Magson has set up a trust in her husband Stephen's memory.
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Ten years ago, Denise Magson and her family spent Christmas Day in “paradise” on the Thai holiday islands of Phi Phi.

But the next day, December 26, 2004, the islands were devastated by the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and Mrs Magson lost her husband, businessman and father-of-four Steve Magson.

It was an event that undoubtedly changed her life forever, but one that formed a lasting connection with the island and its people.

Shortly after Mr Magson’s death, she formed the Steve Magson Memorial Trust, which raised £16,000 in its first year and has gone on to fund the education of two Thai children orphaned in the tsunami, buy boats to help fisherman back in business, and rebuild the lives of many Phi Phi islanders.

Mrs Magson, 51, was kayaking with her 12-year-old daughter Indi when the tsunami hit.

They had left Mr Magson behind at their hut just ten minutes earlier.

The kayak was drawn out into the ocean before being flung back towards land at great speed.

“It was like being in a washing machine,” Mrs Magson said. “We had no idea what it was. I’d never heard of a tsunami before.”

As Indi brushed past her, Mrs Magson was able to grab hold of her daughter, and they were dumped on top of the remainder of what had been their hotel.

“I knew Steve’s chances were fairly slim,” she said. “The whole of our resort, apart from two concrete buildings, the pool and the restaurant, was completely destroyed. Very few people survived.”

The geographical makeup of Phi Phi’s main island, a long thin sandy isthmus surrounded by bays on each side, meant it was particularly badly hit.

“The wave hit both sides, and hit every beach in the area differently,” Mrs Magson said. “It basically destroyed the island.”

The wave that hit one side of the island was 18ft high, and 70 per cent of buildings on Phi Phi were destroyed. Around 4,000 people on the island were killed.

Seeing the devastation in somewhere that had been so beautiful made it an easy decision to focus the efforts of the trust on Phi Phi itself.

“We could come home to our families and homes, and although it was difficult time for us, the people there lost absolutely everything,” she said.

“It was good to have something to focus on. It was important to all his family and friends to honour Steve.”

Mrs Magson and her daughter returned to Phi Phi for the second and fifth anniversary of the tsunami, and spent Boxing Day there again this year.

They have seen the four fishing boats bought with the Trust funds, and taken gifts to a brother and sister whose education they have funded, Roodimat and Sittinpong.

Their parents, who worked at the hotel where the Magsons stayed in 2004, were both killed.

“Every time we’ve gone back it’s been really special, it makes us feel connected to Steve and to the place. We focus on Steve’s memory not what we went through,” Mrs Magson said.

“We have made a lot of friends, Thai friends, friends who have lost people, and we’ve become a tight knit group. We don’t do any of the big memorial events, but create our own.”

Mr Magson, who was born in Acomb and lived in York all his life, had his own removal company, Bishop’s Move, in Sherburn-in-Elmet.

He had trained as a stone mason at York Minster and a memorial service was held for him there just a few weeks before the Thai authorities recovered his body in spring 2005.

Mr Magson had three grown up son, John, Richard and William, and would now be a grandfather.

“He was a wonderful family man, he loved all the children,” Mrs Magson said.

The Trust’s work is still ongoing and any who wishes it can email