The family of Clive Westmorland was devastated to find his white Ford Transit had been taken from the driveway of his home on Park Road, Bakewell, on Wednesday morning.
Mr Westmorland died suddenly at home aged 65 at the beginning of December after suffering a suspected blood clot in his lungs.
His grieving widow Lesley Westmorland, 59, said: “We realised his van was gone on the morning of his funeral.
“We couldn’t believe it – what a heartless crime to commit.
“It tainted what should have been a day to celebrate his life.
“I later spoke to a friend who lives nearby and she said she saw the van heading towards Matlock.”
The van’s keys were inside the house and the family believes the thieves ‘hot-wired’ the vehicle, which has the registration WN59 YPG.
Mr Westmorland’s daughter Hollie Brook, 35, described the offenders as ‘sick’.
She said the vehicle contained Mr Westmorland’s tools as well as sentimental items including his hat.
She added: “The van was part of my dad.
“When you walk down the driveway it seems very strange not to see it there anymore.
“We want it back – even if the thieves dump it somewhere where we can find it.”
Ms Westmorland described her late husband as ‘very loving’.
He loved animals and enjoyed spending time with family and friends and tending to his vegetable patch.
Ms Westmorland added: “He was a builder since the age of 13 – a lot of people knew him locally and he had such a good reputation.
“He was very popular and he’s sorely missed.”
A Derbyshire Constabulary spokesperson confirmed officers received a report about the theft.
They added: “Police enquiries are ongoing.”
Witnesses or anyone with information should call Derbyshire Constabulary on 101 – quoting reference number 18000613919 – or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.