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Cambridge mayor Nigel Gawthrope died of suspected cardiac arrest after scuba dive in South Africa

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The mayor of Cambridge Cllr Nigel Gawthrope at the Big Switch-On in December 2018 in market square. Picture - Richard Marsham
The mayor of Cambridge Cllr Nigel Gawthrope at the Big Switch-On in December 2018 in market square. Picture - Richard Marsham

Cambridge mayor Nigel Gawthrope died after going into a suspected cardiac arrest following a scuba dive while on holiday in South Africa, despite “extensive” efforts to revive him.

The city was left shocked and saddened by the sudden death on Friday of the 61-year-old, who was an experienced scuba diver and underwater photographer.

He was on holiday with his wife, Jenny, and had just surfaced from a morning dive at Aliwal Shoal, on the Kwazulu Natal coastline south of Durban - regarded as one of the best scuba diving sites in the world.

Cllr Gawthrope went into suspected cardiac arrest on the dive charter boat. The crew raised the alarm and headed back towards the shore while performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Paramedics and lifeguards responded and met the dive boat when it arrived on the shore, continuing the CPR for nearly 40 minutes, but he was declared dead.

A statement from South Africa's National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) about the tragedy, which did not name Cllr Gawthrope, said: “At 12.30pm, NSRI Station 39 Rocky Bay were activated to respond to Umkomaas where a dive charter boat raised the alarm and were heading towards shore from a dive reporting CPR efforts being performed on a 61-year-old British man who had surfaced from a dive before going into cardiac arrest on the boat.

“NSRI Station 39 Rocky Bay, Netcare 911 ambulance services, eThekwini Surf Lifesaving lifeguards and police search and rescue responded and rendezvoused with the dive boat on its arrival on-shore and despite extensive CPR efforts by paramedics the man has sadly been declared deceased.

“The crew of the dive charter boat are commended for their extensive efforts to resuscitate the man and condolences are conveyed to family and friends.

“The body of the man has been taken into the care of the forensic pathology services and police have opened an inquest docket.”

Umkomaas, where the dive boat landed, is a coastal town on the subtropical south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, 28 miles south of Durban. Aliwal Shoal, a 1.5km wide offshore reef, is known for its ragged tooth sharks and oceanic blacktip sharks, soft corals and variety of tropical and subtropical fish.

It is understood the couple were due to continue their holiday in Mozambique at the weekend.

Tributes to the committed community-minded Labour councillor, who represented King’s Hedges, have continued to be paid since his death.

Cambridge mayor Nigel Gawthrope and, to his left, High Sheriff Andy Harter and deputy lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Lily Bacon
Cambridge mayor Nigel Gawthrope and, to his left, High Sheriff Andy Harter and deputy lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Lily Bacon

The High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, Dr Andy Harter, and his wife, Lily Bacon, deputy lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, said: “It is with very great sadness that we have learnt of the sudden and untimely death of the mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Nigel Gawthrope, whilst on a well-earned break in South Africa with his wife Jenny.

“Nigel and Jenny have shown distinguished civic leadership in a city that they love, working tirelessly on behalf of the people of Cambridge.

“Nigel brought tremendous energy and irrepressible character to the office of mayor, and he and Jenny were joyful and willing participants in anything and everything they were involved with.

“They did all that could have been expected of them, and more, always with great warmth and humour.

“It was an enormous privilege for Lily and our boys to get to know Nigel and Jenny, through the many event that we attended together, and we will miss their infectious zest for life and their kindness.

“Cambridge and the wider region have lost a true friend, and we offer our heartfelt condolences to Jenny and his family and many friends at this time.”

The Reverend Canon Adrian Daffern, vicar of Great St Mary's, the university church, said on Saturday: "I was shocked and profoundly saddened to hear of Nigel's death.

"From the moment of my arrival in Cambridge last September he went out of his way to make me welcome. Nigel attended many services and events at Great St Mary's in recent months: always he demonstrated a great sense of duty, an inexhaustible supply of energy, and immense warmth and kindliness. He loved this city, and we have lost not only our first citizen, but a champion, and a friend.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Jenny and his wider family - special prayers will be said in remembrance of Nigel, and for Jenny, at all our services tomorrow, and in the days to come."

Cllr Gawthrope, who was born in Leeds, came to Cambridge in 1962.

He worked as a bookbinder for Cambridge University Press for 38 years from 1974 to 2012, moving on to their successors MPG Printgroup until 2013.

He then worked as a trade union tutor for Unite and industrial relations consultant. After a spell at the Judge Business School in 2016-17, he moved to become a porter at Clare College, Cambridge.

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Mayor of Cambridge Nigel Gawthrope dies suddenly while on holiday

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