Tributes for dedicated work

Coun Gerald Wilkinson.
Coun Gerald Wilkinson.

Many tributes have been paid across the political divide to a dedicated and dignified councillor who passed away last Friday after a short illness.

Wetherby and Leeds city councillor Gerald Wilkinson, who lived in Boston Spa, had served the Wetherby community for decades.

MP for Elmet and Rothwell Alec Shelbrooke said: “I’m deeply saddened at the passing of my colleague and friend, Coun Gerald Wilkinson.

“Gerald was dedicated to life in the Wetherby area. Everyone will know that Gerald worked hard for all residents and continued dealing with casework during his recent illness.

“Our community has lost a hardworking representative and the Conservative Party family has lost a dear friend.”

Leeds City Council’s Conservative Group expressed their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Coun Gerald Wilkinson who had served on the city authority from 1999 and was Deputy Lord Mayor in 2008-2009.

Coun Andrew Carter (Leader of the Conservative Group) said: “Gerald was a truly special colleague and friend and will be sorely missed.

“He served the city and the people he represented with distinction, including as Deputy Lord Mayor. On behalf of my group I would like to express my deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

Fellow Wetherby Ward Coun Alan Lamb, who had known him for 25 years, said it had been a privilege to work with Coun Wilkinson.

“Gerald was a wonderful friend and a terrific councillor for Wetherby.

“I am deeply saddened by news of his passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

“It has been a great privilege to work alongside him.”

Coun Lamb, who is deputy leader of the Leeds Conservatives, added: “Gerald was a senior figure even then and, in many ways, he was like a second father to me.

“I will miss him desperately, and you can see from the numbers of tributes I have seen from people of all parties and members of the community.

“He was a gentleman. We had difficult issues to wrestle with as councillors, but he was always polite and dignified - I don’t think I have ever even heard him swear!”

He also revealed that Coun Wilkinson was doing constituency work and responding to emails right up until the day before he passed away.

Coun Lamb said: “There is nothing bad to say about him - if every politician was like Gerald, the country would be in a much better state - he was the hardest working councillor I have ever met.”

Coun Norma Harrington (Conservative, Wetherby Ward) said: “I would like to express by sincere sympathy and condolences to Gerald’s family and friends. It was a pleasure working with him and I will miss him greatly.”

Coun Ryan Stephenson (Con, Harewood) tweeted: “Sad to hear Coun Gerald Wilkinson has passed away. Gerald was one of the first people I met when I became involved in local politics and I had the privilege to serve on various council committees with him.”

And tributes have come from across opposing political parties, with praise for Coun Wilkinson’s work ethics.

Coun Judith Blake (Lab, Middleton Park), leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Our heartfelt sympathies are with Gerald’s family and friends at this incredibly sad time.

“Gerald will be greatly missed by councillors from all political groups and I know many members of the council’s labour group will miss the kind, thoughtful and knowledgeable approach with which Gerald conducted his work on the council.”

David Hopps, secretary of Wetherby Liberal Democrats also paid tribute to Coun Wilkinson’s commitment through illness.

“Coun Wilkinson has been a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party and the Wetherby and Boston Spa area for many years, and even though he was unwell in his final months, that commitment remained until the end,” said Mr Hopps.

“He has had a considerable influence on our area and we offer our condolences to his family and friends.”

Chief executive of Leeds City Council Tom Riordan posted: “So sorry to hear the sad news about Coun Gerald Wilkinson - only positive memories of my dealings with him.

“Thoughts and sincere condolences with his family, friends and colleagues on behalf of the officers of the council.”

Coun Wilkinson lived in the Outer North East of Leeds for over 40 years and was also a member of Wetherby Town Council.

Born and educated in Bradford, Coun Wilkinson served his National Service in 1952-1954.

While in the RAF he became a football referee for the RAF North East League, progressing to the Central League, and later the Football Combination, where he officiated on the grounds of such teams as Manchester United, Newcastle, Leeds, Arsenal and Chelsea.

His highlight in local football was being selected to referee the 1964/5 West Riding County Challenge Cup Final.

Following National Service, he then pursued a career in the textile trade, moving around the country, eventually settling in Wetherby with his family.

With his knowledge of the textile trade, he opened a soft furnishing shop in Wetherby, which ran successfully for 12 years.

Coun Wilkinson joined Wetherby Town Council in 1991. He became Town Mayor from 1997-2000. He joined Leeds City Council in 1999 and was Deputy Lord Mayor of Leeds in 2008.

Throughout his civic career, Coun Wilkinson chaired and served on a number of Council Committees and Boards, including chairing the Outer North East Community Committee and served for a number of years on the North and East Plans Panel.

He had a great interest in cricket, having played in several local teams, including Wetherby.

More recently, he was an avid golfer and was an active member of local clubs where he tried to play as often as possible.