In her time of need, the yachting community came together for Stewardess Gemma Willis (@floatingflorista), who fought against aggressive cervical cancer. Many shared her story and website to help her fundraise to get the treatments that she needed.
Sadly, the world lost the beautiful, brave, and talented Willis on October 21 when she passed away from cervical cancer just 20 months after her diagnosis. The senior superyacht stewardess, also known as the Floating Florista, would have been 31 on November 17.
Celebration of Life
Her family held a celebration of life on November 3 in Essex, England, at GreenAcres Ceremonial Park Epping Forest because “it is the most natural, beautiful, calm, and peaceful place, just like Gem was as a person,” her mother Jayn Willis says. There was no minister, hymns, or Bible verses. “We wanted to talk about Gem, her life, what she had done and achieved throughout her 30 years, show photos, and play her favorite songs, and songs relevant to how we felt about her.” There were 130 people in attendance.
Since Gemma has a small family, her parents and brother decided to make the day open to everyone who knew Gemma or the family. “To be honest, I didn’t realize how many friends we have and how many people Gemma had touched throughout her journey over the last 20 months,” says Jayn.
“We hadn’t ever had a conversation with Gemma about what she would have wanted if anything happened to her because we didn’t think we needed to,” Jayn says. “That was the kind of conversation you have with your elderly parents or grandparents — not your 30-year-old daughter! As far as we [were] all concerned, she was going to get through this!”
Her best friend, Gemma Hulbert (@theyachtstew), gave a heartfelt eulogy. “Thinking about Gem, I think about the legacy of friendship that she is leaving behind. I recently shared with a close friend how I met Gemma, that she walked into my life around the time that I really started to question a lot of my friendships. Looking back now, I genuinely cannot believe how serendipitous it was that we were both docked next to each other in the Caribbean of all places and I recognized her from social media — the only other blonde Gemma I had ever met! That a quick hello from the main deck would turn into one of my [life’s] most important and greatest friendships. Gem changed my views on what true, pure, and honest friendship looks like. And truthfully, Gem makes me want to be a better friend, she makes those who knew her fall in love with the idea of true, honest, beautiful, and incredible female friendship[s] that are based solely on support and love. I truly believe that we all need a Gemma in our life.”
Calling themselves “GemSquared,” they were able to finally work together aboard in November 2019, where they were completely inseparable as roommates, colleagues, and best friends. It was in April 2020 that she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and left for treatments. “That night, she spent five hours creating and designing floral arrangements with a beautiful smile while listening to classical music,” Gemma says. “Even the news of cancer wouldn’t and couldn’t dull Gem’s spirit as she took the time to make beautiful flower arrangements for every girl on board. And it was no surprise that even with countless hospital visits, Gem still managed to create a hugely successful business. After years of sharing her creativity and kindness with those at sea, she brought it to land and opened Floating Florista.”
ACREW Crew Awards Recipient
Before her passing, Gemma was nominated for the Senior Crew category at the ACREW crew awards this year — and won. She was in the hospital and wasn’t able to travel to Barcelona for the awards, but was discharged on the day of the awards. Hulbert went to the awards to represent her and brought home the award for her.
“I nominated her for the Senior Crew Award, as there was no one in my mind who deserved this more,” says Louise Overend, interior recruitment consultant at YPI Crew. “I watched online as she won and gave her beautiful acceptance speech from her hospital bed,” says Overend. “Gem never stopped inspiring others, and the industry is a richer, better place [because of] her.”
Gemma's Impact in the Industry
The two met when Gemma was a green stew who came into Overend’s office in 2016. “She lit up the room, and I knew she was going to do so well! I have placed Gemma in quite a few of her positions, and I knew she would always do me proud,” she says. “She never stopped giving and sharing her skills.”
For Emma Windever, who met Gemma in 2017 when she employed her to be part of her interior team onboard a yacht, they connected immediately when talking about how close Gemma was to her mom, Jayn.
"I spent 16 months working and living with Gem and during this time I really got to know the kindhearted, caring person she was. Gem to this day was the most enthusiastic stewardess I have come across during my time in the yachting industry. She was just so happy to be there, to be a part of the team, and wanted to just learn as much as she could," says Windever. "It didn’t take me long to realize that Gem was my creative stew and of course loved anything to do with flowers and table setting — she was so passionate and took pride as well as plenty of photographs of the displays she created and would it was just so amazing for me to watch her share and get excited to me about new ideas she had."
During that time, Windever says her late friend would occasionally greet her with coffee and a set breakfast table after late nights and offer to do her hair and make her feel amazing.
"Thank you for those times Gem, thank you for lifting me up with your positive energy, making me feel amazing, and always having my back. I have some wonderful memories of our times in the Carribean on ‘our beach days’ which you loved and so many amazing sunsets we watched, I will cherish forever," she says, adding, "From the first day I met Gemma she told me her dream was to have her own florist. Gem, I hope you are now surrounded by all the flowers you love and watching amazing sunsets will always make me think of you. Rest in peace beautiful friend."
In one of her Instagram stories, Gemma’s mom posted about new research published in the medical journal The Lancet: cases of cervical cancer have fallen 87 percent thanks to the HPV vaccine. The CDC describes Human Papillomavirus (HPV) as a very common virus that can cause cancers later in life. “Nearly 42 million people are currently infected with HPV in the United States. About 13 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year,” the website states. Nearly 36,000 people in the U.S. are estimated to be affected by it annually. The HPV vaccine provides safe, effective, and lasting protection against HPV infections that most commonly cause cancer.
Check out www.doitforgem.com for more info on what her loved ones are doing in her honor, including petitioning for the UK government to discuss in Parliament for immunotherapy treatment for cervical cancer to be funded by the NHS. You can follow Gemma’s dedicated Instagram accounts, run by her mom: @FloatingFlorista and@Gem_TheFlowerStew.