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16 March 2003
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Major Ronald Ferguson, father of the Duchess of York, died Sunday night of a heart attack. The 71-year-old passed away in a Hampshire clinic, a spokesperson for the family has confirmed. His second wife Susan was at his side.

A statement released on behalf of Sarah Ferguson said that the Duchess "is grieving but is grateful for the time she had with her father to say goodbye."

Sarah had seen her father recently, shortly before leaving for a trip to Australia. She is expected to carry out her scheduled engagements before returning in a few days' time for the funeral.

The Major, considered a headstrong, outspoken figure by royal watchers, was brought into the spotlight by Sarah's marriage to Prince Andrew in 1986.

The septuagenarian had been plagued with illness over the last few years, with recent months bringing a string of health setbacks. In November of last year, he suffered a massive heart attack. Sarah, who was "devastated" at her cancer-stricken dad's illness, was frequently at his bedside.

In October, 2002 the former Household Cavalry member disclosed that he was suffering from skin cancer and would begin chemotherapy. He also suffered from prostate cancer, a condition diagnosed in 1996.

"I know I can help people and encourage men who are ignorant about the illness and hate going to the doctor," he said in 2001 about the decision to reveal he was stricken with the disease. "The message hasn't got through. That's why I went public."

And he was just as forthcoming when it came to facing his illness. "I don't confront my own mortality," he said. "I'm not going to die until I'm very old. My attitude to cancer was, 'Right, let's get on with it.'"The Duchess, who lost her mother Susan Barrantes in 1999, told HELLO! the same year that her father was "a great inspiration" to her.

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Photo: ©
A family spokesperson confirmed Major Ronald Ferguson died of a heart attack on Sunday night
Photo: ©
The septuagenarian became a public figure after his daughter Sarah married Prince Andrew in 1986Photo: © PA