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Jeremy Birch served Hastings as borough and county councillor for 20 years (photo: Justin Lycett/HBC).

Jeremy Birch: a hard act to follow

Tributes to Jeremy Birch, the former Hastings Borough Council leader who died as a result of a severe stroke last week, continue to flow in. He would, said one, be a hard act to follow. A memorial service and event are being planned and a donations page has been opened. Nick Terdre reports.

Jeremy Birch’s funeral was held earlier this week. In accordance with the wishes of his family, it was a private event. The family have expressed appreciation that their privacy has been respected.

A service to celebrate Jeremy’s life will be held on 20 June at St Mary’s in the Castle. A memorial event will also be held in June, according to HBC spokesman Kevin Boorman – it has yet to be planned, so no details are available. Meanwhile a new council leader will be elected at the annual council on Wednesday 20 May, when the rest of the Cabinet will also be appointed. Deputy leader Councillor Peter Chowney has temporarily taken over the council leader’s duties.

By-elections will also be held to elect new borough and county councillors to take Jeremy’s place for the Central St Leonards and Old Hastings and Tressell wards respectively, though dates have yet to be fixed. He had been both a borough and a county councillor since 1995.

Donations may be made in Jeremy’s memory to the Stroke Association (here); the memorial page also records milestones in his life. Born in 1952, despite his youthful appearance he was in his early 60s when he died.

Jeremy at a PlayDays event in Alexandra Park last summer (photo: Tracy Hobden/HBC).

Among many tributes paid to Jeremy, Cllr Chowney recalled that he “…was well known and respected not just in East Sussex, but throughout the region, and was instrumental in getting a big share of whatever regional and national resources were on offer, largely down to his persuasive intellect, absolute dedication, and unswerving devotion to the place he was born in.

“In public, he was an astonishing orator, and showed all the qualities a leader should. In private, he was witty and entertaining, with a succinct and precise sense of humour that I certainly appreciated. It’s so hard to realise that I’m not going to experience that again: the witticisms, the incisive explanations, and yes, the arguments – but always constructive ones.”

“I have known Jeremy as much as a friend as a fellow councillor, and am personally devastated at his passing,” added the Mayor of Hastings, Cllr Bruce Dowling. “Like me he was Hastings born and bred, and proud of it. And he was passionate about this town.

“He was larger than life in every respect, and our meetings, Hastings Borough Council, and Hastings the town, will not be the same. We have lost a real friend.”

Tributes have also been paid by colleagues on East Sussex County Council, led by Cllr Trevor Webb, the county Labour group leader. “Jeremy made a huge impact in his 20 years as a county councillor. That’s borne out in the huge numbers of people wanting to pay tribute,” he said. “He was a dedicated community leader. I am proud to have called him my colleague and proud to have called him my friend.”

ESCC’s Conservative council leader, Keith Glazier, said: “I will personally miss him, our group will miss him and East Sussex will miss him. He will be a hard act to follow.”

“Jeremy was a true leader – especially for Hastings – and he never hesitated to use his many skills and boundless energy to help individuals and communities alike,” said fellow Labour county councillor Godfrey Daniel. “He will never be forgotten. It has been an honour to know Jeremy and work with him.”

Tributes have also come from other party representatives. Cllr David Tutt (Lib Dem) said, “Jeremy was the voice of Hastings in this chamber. He stood up for the most vulnerable and most disadvantaged in our society. Hastings has lost a true champion.”

UKIP’s Cllr Philip Howson said, “When Jeremy spoke – you listened. Labour has lost a brilliant politician. He’ll be sadly missed.”

Cllr Ruth O’Keeffe (Independent) said, “He always spoke from the heart. I greatly admired that. The council has lost a tremendous councillor and, for his family, a wonderful person.”

Cllr Stephen Shing, an Independent Democrat, said, “All politicians can stand up and make speeches. When Jeremy spoke he always added to a debate. He was incredibly knowledgeable and he will be sorely missed.”

 

Donations in Jeremy’s memory may be made to the Stroke Association here.

 

Posted 15:09 Wednesday, May 13, 2015 In: Home Ground

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