Stephen Realf was a young man with big dreams.
The Lawrence Sheriff School pupil graduated as an RAF officer when he was just 18, making him the second youngest person to be training as an RAF pilot at that time.
One year later, at the age of 19, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
This summer, after a seven year battle, he lost his fight on August 18, aged just 26.
During the course of his illness, Stephen endured several gruelling operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, yet his family say he never lost his beautiful smile or his sense of fun.
This week his parents, Peter and Liz, who live in Boughton Vale, Rugby, paid tribute to their son who “smiled until the end”.
“I think Stephen was very courageous,” said Peter.
“He didn’t want the disease to define him, he didn’t want it to get him down. I think our son packed more into those six years than some people do in a lifetime.”
Stephen’s symptoms started with what his parents describe as “funny turns, just pins and needles in his right arm.”
However, tests showed it was more serious.
Liz said: “I think he thought he’d have the tumour removed and that would be that.
“It was heartbreaking because he couldn’t fly and he had to surrender his driving licence because of the brain surgery.”
She said seeing Stephen, once such an outgoing, fit man who was so full of life, losing his independence was hard.
That’s where Myton Hospice threw a lifeline.
Liz said: “When it was suggested to us that Stephen go to Myton Hospice in Rugby one day a week, we didn’t think he’d go for it.
“He visited the day centre and absolutely loved it. Stephen made new friends, teased the nurses, played games like Scrabble. He went on lots of social events and it was like getting the old Stephen back.”
His family tried hard to help Stephen fulfil as many wishes as he could before he died.
He met Dynamo the magician in London, visited the Grand Canyon, and went to a film premiere attended by Bruce Willis.
He also met his beloved Spurs football team, watching them play almost every home game.
The family’s last treasured holiday was spent in Lanzarote. Two months later, Stephen’s condition worsened, and in March, doctors said there was nothing more they could do.
He passed away peacefully at his home on August 18, aged 26 with his family at his side.
“He planned his own funeral and his last request was to have a flypast ‘if possible!’ at his funeral,” said Peter.
“Stephen was such a popular lad, and the RAF asked if there was anything he would’ve wanted. When I mentioned his request they were only too happy to grant his final wish. It was so moving.”
His close friend Paul Sullivan paid tribute to Stephen.
He said: “His unbelievable courage when faced with everyone’s worst nightmare showed the type of person he was.”
Now his parents and sisters Maria, 34, and Kathryn, 32, have ploughed their energies into raising money for Myton Hospice.
“The hospice, the nurses, the volunteers, they were all brilliant,” added Peter.
“Now we want to give something back to them.”
They have already raised nearly £7,000 for the facility, which is based at Rugby’s Hospital of St Cross.
“Stephen will be remembered for his kindness and his ability to get on with people of all ages,” said Liz.
“He was always smiling, right until the end.”
Visit www.justgiving.com/steverealf to donate to the family’s appeal.