THE long-term partner of a 28-year-old who died in a serious crash has paid tribute to the devoted father of her children.

Tree surgeon Gary Cooper from Maresfield near Uckfield died when his van was hit by a lorry last Thursday.

Mr Cooper was the father of two sons – Henry, aged six, and one-year-old Jimmy.

His partner of 10 years Anneka Maher, 27, spoke yesterday of the family's loss.

She said: “Gary was the most wonderful dad and always put his family first.

“When he finished work he would always come straight back to be with us, and the children thought the world of him.

“Henry, in particular, idolised him and they loved spending time together with a horse Gary had recently bought called Coco.

“If it wasn’t that they’d be with Gary’s quad bike, his chickens or his dogs, all of which he was incredibly enthusiastic about.

“Jimmy would often just sit and watch them, enjoying being there even though he wasn’t old enough to join in.

“I can’t stress enough what a good family man Gary was and how much he is already missed.”

Gary had two brothers, Tony and Mikey, and two sisters, Louise and Lauren.

His parents were Pam and Henry, although the latter has always been known as Gary. Anneka said: “It was a bit of a family joke. They used to be known as Big Gary and Little Gary.” She thanked members of the emergency services and the other motorists at the scene for their efforts to help Gary.

Mr Cooper was driving his Ford Transit on the A26 near its junction with Wellingham Lane, Ringmer, shortly after 9am on Thursday when it was involved in a collision with a Volvo lorry.