TRIBUTE has been paid to former Stratford District Council leader Les Topham.
Mr Topham, who also served as district councillor and chairman, passed away on Tuesday February 2.
He took over the leadership of the council in 2005 and was the driving force behind the World Class Stratford project – a multi-million pound development of the waterfront in Stratford.
Stratford District Council said: “Les was very proud of the district and once rigorously defended a stinging attack on the character of town from Germaine Greer in 2007 as ‘inaccurate’ and ‘misleading’.
“A larger than life character and while he was a strong Conservative, respect for Les transcended political boundaries with his straight talking and dry wit. Les was inclusive of all views from the council and during his time as leader included an opposition member on the Executive.
“The district council expresses its sincere condolences to his wife Gill and all their family and friends.”
SDC chairman Tony Dixon added: “I joined the council 12 months after Les and worked with him until we both stood down in 2010. Les enjoyed being in the centre but would sometimes comment that he never really wanted to be the leader, somewhat uncomfortable with speeches his emotions could take over and I do recall tears being shed.
“He was rightly proud of his achievements and of our district and during his year as our chairman took the opportunity, at his own expense, to visit America and publicise the delights of our district. The downside was that his visit coincided with 9/11. Our thoughts at this time are with Gill, his family, and their many friends.”
Former SDC leader Chris Saint, who took over from Mr Topham in 2011, also paid tribute.
He said: “Les emerged as SDC leader in February 2005 at a difficult time for us all and proved to be an effective team player with many facets of operation. He immediately ensured that I, his predecessor, had a key role to play in our important relationships across the West Midlands region, whereupon I became the regional Cultural Affairs Portfolio Holder in the run up to London 2012. Les had a strong vision for Stratford and its environs that governed his many ambitions for our communities, notably the World Class Stratford project. He built upon what he inherited using the legacy I had left for the benefit of the whole district.”
Born in Birmingham, he spent most of his career at British Leyland, before running his own successful garden centre in Mappleborough Green near Studley, Warwickshire.
Married to Gill, he included collecting Jaguar cars, playing the piano and organ as his hobbies.