TRIBUTES have poured in for an alderman, former Hartlepool mayor and long-serving councillor who died at the weekend following a short illness.
Alderman Ray Waller, who served as a councillor for 44 years and was also a freeman, died aged 75 in Hartlepool & District Hospice on Saturday.
Born in West Hartlepool in 1939, Alderman Waller was first elected as a councillor to the South Ward at the age of 23.
He became council leader and went on to serve Hartlepool Borough Council until his retirement in 2007.
The popular figure was also a prominent county councillor and was chairman of Cleveland County Council in 1987-88.
The straight-talking Labour councillor was chair of governors at Hartlepool College of Further Education for 26 years from 1981 to 2007 and was also a former governor of Rossmere Primary School and Brierton Comprehensive School.
He was also the first Chairman of Cleveland Fire Authority when it was set up in 1996.
Hartlepool’s mayor, Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, said: “Ray was a true public servant for over 40 years and dedicated his life to local government. He was well known both locally and nationally.
“His vision for Hartlepool made a lasting legacy. Ray was a well-respected politician and a true community councillor who will be missed. Even in retirement Ray took an active role in the council and continued to be a true supporter of our town.”
The council’s leader, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, added: “Ray Waller was a friend, confidante and mentor. He devoted a huge part of his life to Hartlepool through his public service.
“He had integrity and a deep sense of pride in our great town and I shall miss him so very much. My thoughts are very much with his wife, Jean, at this sad time.”
Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, leader of the Conservative Group on the council, added: “I am extremely saddened at the news of Ray Waller’s passing and would like to express my deepest sympathy to his family at this sad time.
“On behalf of the Conservative Group I would like to pay tribute to the decades of dedicated work Ray Waller put in to the town he was so proud to serve.”
Long-time Labour colleague Councillor Carl Richardson said: “Ray Waller was incredibly knowledgeable, a great speaker and good fun. We will all miss him and he will never be forgotten.”
Speaking shortly before his death, the married father and grandfather said that former Hartlepool MP Ted Leadbitter inspired him to pursue a life in politics.
He said: “Ted Leadbitter was my biggest inspiration. He was a teacher when I was at Galleys Field School and he went on to become a local councillor and Member of Parliament for Hartlepool.”
Mr Waller also said that education was his passion.
“Education has always been my first love. If children get a good education they’ve always got a good chance to succeed in life.”
A civic funeral takes place at Stranton Church on Friday at 11am.
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