Flags have been flying half mast at both the Leamington Town Hall and Chapel Green in Whitnash following the news of the death of long standing town and district councillor, Tony Heath.
Tony passed at away surrounded by his family at home on Thursday September 23 following a period of ill health.
His friends and council colleagues have told the Courier and Weekly News how he had been instrumental in forming the independent Whitnash Ratepayers Association in 1977, together with fellow councillor, Bernard Kirton, and they both stood as candidates, winning seats on the then parish council.
Over the following years, their Ratepayers Association - which later became the Whitnash Residents Association - would go on to take all the seats on Whitnash Town Council.
A formidable figure in local Whitnash politics, Tony had been a town and parish councillor for over 40 years.
He joined the parish council in 1974, and had served on the council ever since, apart from an eight year period when his wife, Jenny, was ill.
He was chairman of the then Whitnash Parish Council from 1981 – 1983, and Mayor of Whitnash Town Council twice - first in 2001/2 and again in 2017/18. After he had returned to the council, he used one of his terms as Mayor to help raise funds for the cancer unit at the University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire which had treated his wife.
He served at both the town council and Warwick District Council, and was a district councillor for Whitnash for over 20 years. In May this year, Tony had the honour of becoming deputy chairman of the District Council.
Tony was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, and in his youth was an army cadet, who later went on to join the Territorial Army.
He met his wife, Jenny, at age of 17 and they got married in 1964, going on to have three children and six grandchildren.
During the 1960s, Tony worked at the International Stores in Stratford, becoming manager, and soon after went on to become a sales rep for HJ Heinz and other leading brands.
He ran discos at Bearley and the Drill Hall in Stratford, hosting some leading bands over the years, including Jimmy Cliff.
Tony and Jenny moved to Leamington in 1969, and when he joined Whitnash Parish Council in 1974, he became involved with the Christmas lights, hanging baskets, and was one of the founder members of the Whitnash Twinning Association.
Tony bought and ran a recruiting business in Rugby, and went on to recruit for construction companies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, recruiting workers from India and Manila who then helped to build the King Faisal Cancer Research hospital and the Saudi air force headquarters.
In 1980 he became chairman of the Valley Sports Rugby Football team who went on win the FA Vase at Wembley.
During the 1980s, Tony and Jenny bought and ran a rest home in Claremont Road, Leamington, and after selling this, Tony went on to work in security at the NEC for a few years where he was a Union Rep.
As well his council activities, Tony served as chair of St Margaret’s School PTA and was chair of Governors at Myton School. He was chairman of the Whitnash Youth Club for 19 years, and at one time was a director at Leamington Football Club, whose New Windmill Ground on Harbury Lane is actually in Whitnash.
In recent years, Tony ran a parcel delivery company until he retired, and bought a chauffeur company that carried out corporate work.
He suffered a major heart attack in 2016, but recovered, and returned to his many council duties. More recently, he was chairman of both Whitnash Town Council’s Finance Committees, and the Civic Centre and Library Project Committee.
He had been heavily involved in the planning, development, and in securing funding for, the new Whitnash Civic Centre & Library project, which is expected to open before the end of this year.
His life had always been busy with council related work, and his dream was to have a new Civic Centre in Whitnash.
Sadly, he will not get to see the project that he worked so tirelessly on for so many years completed.
However, it will remain an impressive legacy for a man who devoted so much of his diverse life to the town, and residents of the town, he lived in for so many years – Whitnash.
Tributes from colleagues and former colleagues from his time with both Whitnash Town Council and Warwick District Council have been paid over the last few days.
Cllr Andrew Day, leader of Warwick District Council paid this tribute to Cllr Heath in the WDC weekly newsletter: “A genuine community champion with a lion heart, Tony was a long serving Councillor and hardworking leader of the Whitnash Residents Association group.
"Renowned for his straight-talking, colleagues from all parties will miss Tony’s good humour, leadership and pragmatic approach to getting things done.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jenny, family members and wide circle of friends.
"Through his public service Tony leaves an enduring legacy across the District, and particularly in the town of Whitnash.”
Current mayor of Whitnash, Cllr Adrian Barton: "His greatest achievement has been his vision to build a new Civic Centre for Whitnash, if it was not for Tony and Judy [Falp], this would not have been built - he may not have seen it finished, but it will be a long lasting legacy for Whitnash.
"He was a man who I looked up to and took great pride in having the pleasure to know and work with. He will be sadly missed by all the Council members and Staff. Our thoughts are with Jenny and the family, and his council comrade, Cllr Judy Falp.”
Fellow town and district councillor, Cllr Judy Falp, said: “I have worked with Tony on Whitnash Town Council for over 28 years, and the District Council for over 18 years.
"I am also on the committee of Whitnash Youth Club.
"But our most important connection was that we became very good friends.
"He was somebody I could go to for advice and support and in turn I worked closely with him to achieve a Civic Centre and Library for Whitnash.
"There was rarely a day when we had not spoken to each other during the last few years.
"I will miss him so much, but I am very grateful that he was one of my best friends and that my life and that of the residents have been enhanced by his hard work and dedication to Whitnash.”
Former Whitnash Councillor, Kitty Crutchley added: “I met Tony on the Whitnash Council in the early 80's and we worked together on the Whitnash Council for 34 years, and on the Warwick District Council for eight years.
"Tony was an old school councillor like Bernard Kirton and myself, and was always on hand to assist and give helpful advice to people.
"He was very professional and well liked.
"He was a true friend together with his wife Jenny to myself and my late husband, and he will be sadly missed.”