MOURNERS packed out a church to pay their last respects to a former council leader after his death at the age of 75.
The service was told that Labour stalwart Ray Waller only learned he had “advanced and incurable” cancer a fortnight before his death last Saturday.
His civic funeral at Stranton Parish Church, in Hartlepool, was crammed and people had to stand at the back after all the seats were filled.
Among the congregation yesterday were town MP Iain Wright, councillors from across the political divide and representatives from both Cleveland Police and Cleveland Fire Brigade.
They listened to tributes about a deeply-religious man who was “passionate about politics and passionate about Hartlepool”.
The Mayor of Hartlepool, Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher, said: “Too often the title man of the people or community councillor are over-used.
“However this accolade is truly deserved to Ray Waller.
“Ray dedicated a large part of his life to politics and always stayed true to his principles and the people of Hartlepool.”
Pastor David Russon, the chaplain to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, was a friend of the dad-of-one and told how privileged he was to spend time with him shortly before his death in Hartlepool & District Hospice.
He added: “He had risen the heights in town. He could have become the MP for the town. There was a chance.”
The Vicar of Stranton, the Reverend Norman Shave, spoke on behalf of Alderman Waller’s widow, Jean, and had mourners chuckling with tales about how the couple met while both working at the Co-op Central Stores, in Park Road.
Rev Shave said: “He would often say ‘I have got her at the Co-op sale half-price’.”
They also laughed when told that Alderman Waller used son Graeme’s pram as a means for transporting political leaflets while talking him for a walk.
Alderman Waller was born in Crimdon Street, near Raby Road, in what was then West Hartlepool, in 1939.
He attended Dyke House School and later worked as an insurance agent and steelworker.
He was first elected as a Hartlepool borough councillor for the South ward at the age of 23 and served for 44 years until retiring in 2007.
As well as becoming council leader and later a freeman of Hartlepool, he was also a prominent Cleveland county councillor and chairman of the authority in 1987-88.
He was chair of governors at Hartlepool College of Further Education for 26 years, a school governor and the first chairman of Cleveland Fire Authority.
He lived on the Fens estate and is survived by his wife, son and grandson George.