A Kiwi golfer and greenkeeper living his dream on the hallowed links at St Andrews in Scotland died beside his young wife, moments after giving her a gift on her 30th birthday.
Scratch golfer Mark Hills, 31, and wife Nicola left New Zealand on their honeymoon after marrying in February 2011.
Having settled and worked in St Andrews for two years, and with Mr Hills completing more than 130 rounds on the celebrated course, the couple were due to come home in April last year.
But two months earlier he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, which quickly spread through his body and into his spine, leaving the golfer in hospital with his wife acting as an around-the-clock carer.
He died on August 26 in Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, moments after giving his wife some jewellery as a 30th birthday gift.
His father-in-law Robin Kent told the Weekend Herald yesterday: “He woke at 10 [minutes] past midnight and gave her her birthday present, which was a bangle with special words inscribed on it.
“They cuddled for a while and she hopped on the bed and lay beside him on the bed.
“Then she woke up and he didn’t.”
Mrs Hills is currently in transit, bringing her husband’s body home.
The former Southland representative golfer had been looking after greens at Kingsbarns Golf Links, just 11km from the “home of golf” St Andrews.
Part of his overseas experience had led him to playing 22 of the world’s top 100 golf courses.
Former colleagues have spoken about the golfer’s many talents – and the tragedy of losing him so young.
For about six years until he left in 2011, Mr Hills had been assistant golf course superintendent at Jack’s Point golf course in Queenstown.
His former mentor, Jack’s Point course superintendent Simon Forshaw, said Mr Hills was “the sort of guy who had time for everybody”.
“He’d go out of his way to help people, he made friends easily.
“He was just an all-round good Kiwi guy.”
In a tribute posted to the New Zealand Golf Course Superintendents Association website, he added: “This has been a massive blow for everybody.
“Everyone Mark came into contact with made friends with him on their first encounter.
“Nothing was ever an issue or a problem for Mark, it was just a challenge or situation to be faced or corrected.
“His power of positive thinking was a character of his personality – no mountain was ever too high to climb.
“The way Mark looked at it, it might just take a little bit longer getting to the top.”
Jack’s Point general manager John Griffin said Mr Hills was “an exceptionally capable young man” whose “dream job was to live and work in Scotland”.
He had also worked at the Lakes Resort in Pauanui and Green Acres in Nelson before his job in Queenstown.
Mr Kent said he couldn’t have asked for a better son-in-law.
“This has kicked us in the guts a whole heap, really.
“It was an absolute privilege that he came into my family.
“He was a gentleman… just a really, really nice young fella who worked hard and respected people.
“He was just a little gem. It was just a cruel, cruel blow.”
A service will be held for Mr Hills near his parents’ home in Takaka on Wednesday.
Memorial services for him will follow at Jack’s Point golf course in Queenstown next Saturday and at Hauraki Golf Club in Ngatea on September 24.