TRIBUTES have been paid to an “invaluable” NEAS employee who has tragically died after contracting coronavirus.

Sue Gargett worked for NEAS for nearly three years, and was described as a “mother figure” by her colleagues.

She died, aged 53, in the University Hospital of North Durham, after being taken ill with the virus at Easter.

Sue, who lived in Shotton Colliery, worked as a specialist in our Employment Futures team, preparing service-users for work, and helping to unlock suitable job opportunities.

Derek Groves, Employment Services Manager for NEAS, said: “Sue was an invaluable team player, who was always ready to jump to the support of her colleagues whenever it was needed.”

Sue’s role involved raising the aspirations of autistic people by helping them to realise their potential and identify their transferrable skills, before finding routes into employment.

“She was successful in helping some service-users get their first paid jobs and she loved being able to do that,” said Mr Groves. “She was so emotionally involved in her role – she’d be ecstatic if ever someone got a job.”

Before joining NEAS, Sue had spent around ten years at East Durham College, working with people with special educational needs.

During her time with the Society, Sue worked on two key projects: the DurhamWorks youth employment programme, and Moving On Tyne and Wear.

“She was one of the first members of the Employment Futures department, and was highly respected from the beginning, because of her experience and professionalism. She was a mother figure to the younger members of the team and will be a huge miss,” said Mr Groves.

John Phillipson, Chief Executive of NEAS, added: “Employment Futures is carrying out some fantastic work, making a massive difference to people’s lives, and Sue was a very important part of that success.

“She was a lovely person and my last conversation with her was about how she wanted to run a social group for adults in her own time in the evenings. It was that kind of support and initiative that summed up her special qualities.”

Last week it was announced that another NEAS employee, Margie Blyth, of Sunderland, had also died of coronavirus. Her funeral was held on Thursday.

It is not known how either of the women contracted the virus, but they worked separately, and Mr Phillipson said no other staff, who had been close to them, had shown any symptoms of the disease.

Sue, who had an underlying health condition, leaves a husband, Ian, and they had a grown-up adopted son, Andrew. A private family funeral service will be held on May 20.

She will be missed by us all.