A cleric at the church where Alan Greaves was due to play the organ the night he was fatally attacked has described the grandfather as a “gentle giant.”
The 68-year-old retired social worker should have been playing for midnight mass on Christmas Eve at St Saviour’s Church in High Green, Sheffield, where he was a lay preacher.
Instead he was left fighting for his life in the street close to his home on Greengate Lane after a brutal attack just 200 yards from the church. He lost his battle several days later when he died from head injuries.
As police yesterday launched a murder investigation those who knew Mr Greaves paid tribute to the father-of-four.
Rev Canon Simon Bessant, from St Saviour’s Church, said: “He was well known, a tall man but very much a gentle giant. Alan can only be described as a good man. He was such a gentleman, just doing what he does and serving others. He was a gentle soul. It makes no sense.”
Mr Bessant, who worked closely with Mr Greaves and his wife Maureen, a church community outreach worker, said that when he failed to arrive for the service fears were raised.
“It was completely out of character and we all knew something was wrong then,” he said. “We were deeply shocked when we heard he had been so violently attacked.
“There has been huge upset in the church and the community. He spent his professional life as a social worker. He was heavily involved in this community.”
Mr Bessant said Mr Greaves and his wife had recently been involved in setting up a community project and food bank.
“All our hearts go to Maureen and her family at this time of loss,” he said. “There is a strong Christian faith in the family but that does not mean that the grief is not very raw. It’s very hard to take why this should happen to such a good man. In terms of the church, there’s a huge amount of upset.
“I think in the community there will be concerns about safety. This is not a violent area. Nevertheless, people should be able to walk around the streets on Christmas Eve night without the fear of this sort of thing happening.”
As the day wore on yesterday and news of Mr Greaves’s death spread, those who knew him began to pay their respects with flowers at the spot where he was attacked.
Messages painted a picture of a gentle man who was well thought of in the community.
“A gentler man you could never have met – Alan,” read one card and on another signed from an ex colleague: “A village loss, heaven gained.”
On a card attached to a bunch of roses, someone had written: “Alan, a lovely man taken away in such a brutal way. Rest in peace, Alan.”
Mr Greaves, who was known to children at Angram Bank Primary School where he played piano, had been an organist and lay preacher with St Saviour’s for nine years.
He had four adult children and had recently become a grandfather to twin boys adopted by his daughter in Mozambique, who were said to have travelled to Yorkshire for Christmas.
His family were said to have been looking forward to spending Christmas together.
Mr Bessant, who spent most of Christmas Day with Mr Greaves and his family, said: “It was a hard vigil by his bedside watching him struggle. His wife wants justice but she doesn’t want vengeance. She is not embittered but obviously she wants this person to be caught.”
A family friend said Mr Greaves’s family would be praying for the person who attacked him.