Hundreds attend Cambridge mayor Nigel Gawthrope's funeral
Crowds of mourners came to pay their respects to Cambridge’s late mayor at his funeral.
Nigel Gawthrope died suddenly while on a diving holiday in South Africa in January. His wife Jenny, the mayoress, was with him when tragically he passed away at the age of 61.
His funeral was on Friday (February 22) and the procession visited some of his favourite places in the city - including former workplaces and his beloved local pub, The Grapes in Histon Road.
Cllr Gawthrope, an enthusiastic biker and Harley Davidson rider, was known for his “larger than life” personality, and his funeral procession was headed by a cavalcade of motorbikes.
The Reverend David Maher, who led the funeral service at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Arbury, was one of the bikers following the funeral procession from Cllr Gawthrope's home.
He said: "I have known Nigel since May when I became the Mayor's Chaplain and I got to know him very well in a short space of time. He was such a wonderful character and great man - he just connected with everyone.
"I ride a motorbike as well and had accompanied Nigel on other bike processions, such as as when we delivered toys to Addenbrooke's. When it came to the funeral it was my privilege to be part of that procession behind him.
"It was a really interesting mix of emotions during the ride. It was really moving and a lovely way of being able to show our respect and there was a sense as we rode around of people acknowledging what was happening and that was really moving but it was also fun being part of that many bikers riding around Cambridge, stopping the traffic and causing a little bit of chaos - I think Nigel would have enjoyed that."
More than 500 people attended the service, with the church packed and mourners spilling out into the car park outside and listening via speakers.
Mr Maher said: "It was a touching service. We gave thanks for Nigel and the gift that he was and to celebrate his life as well as recognising the grief, sadness and shock of losing him."
At the funeral, Cllr Kevin Price read the poem The Union Man, reflecting his career, and Cllr Gawthrope's favourite songs were played before the service, including hits from The Who and Bob Marley.
Dennis Doggett, 67, who worked with Cllr Gawthrope at the Cambridge University Press, was one of the motorbike riders behind the Mayor's hearse. He said: "I was so proud to be there with the other bikers for Nigel's last ride. There was a large number bikes and we started out from his home and then rode around all the places that were special to him. People came out to watch or to wave and it was lovely that we were allowed to follow him around the grounds of The Press, where we used to work together. Nigel was a very likeable man and had lots of friends - he will be missed."
Roddy Maclean, production controller at Cambridge University Press, said: "I worked at the Press with Nigel for more than 20 years and he was a very friendly, popular colleague who was always willing to support other people.
"Last Friday as the cortege approached the Press, the motorbikes roared in celebration of his life. It was fitting that the procession came past the Press where he was held in such respect. Many colleagues and friends, past and present, stood outside to pass on their respects and stood to salute him as the cortege stopped for a minute. He always enjoyed the mayor’s processions and I know he would have approved."
The funeral procession also passed by Clare College where Cllr Gawthrope was a porter - his final job.
The college said in a statement: “He was a highly valued member of the Clare community, and will be greatly missed.”
Nigel, 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. He died eight months into his term as mayor of the city.
Last Friday, the church was so full that dozens of mourners had to stand outside to listen to the service.
His friend, the TV presenter Carol Vorderman, attended the service and afterwards tweeted: “It was an emotional, wonderful, happy funeral with much laughter and respect, everyone was welcomed. It was an honour to have been invited. They say 'you can tell a lot about a man by the company
His friend, the TV presenter Carol Vorderman, attended the service and afterwards tweeted: “It was an emotional, wonderful, happy funeral with much laughter and respect, everyone was welcomed. It was an honour to have been invited. They say 'you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps'. Well, you could tell a lot about Nigel by his wife and fine family and the exuberant love and intelligence that whirled around the church. This wasn't about politics, although that was an important part of his life, this was about a man who made his mark on his world. Rest in peace mayor. We only met a few times. I wish it had been more.”
Cllr Gerri Bird, previously deputy mayor, has been chosen to replace Cllr Gawthrope
Cllr Bird was installed as the new mayor last Thursday (February 21) at a full meeting of Cambridge City Council. Despite officially taking on the role, the mayor’s chair at the meeting was left empty and draped with black cloth as a mark of respect.
Councillors from all parties paid tribute to their “comrade”, with many praising his dedication and commitment to the job as well as his kindness and infectious sense of humour.
Labour’s Cllr Kevin Price expressed his disbelief at Cllr Gawthrope’s death. In an emotional tribute during which he appeared to choke back tears, Cllr Price said Cllr Gawthrope was a “great ambassador” for Cambridge who had been “incredibly proud” to represent his King’s Hedges ward.
Lib Dem leader Tim Bick remembered Cllr Gawthrope’s “fair-minded, good-humoured, pragmatic approach” to politics, saying he often made cross-party cooperation and consensus easy. He said Cllr Gawthrope was a “natural” mayor with an “occasional tendency to the unruly”.
Independent councillor John Hipkin admitted he had not known Cllr Gawthrope that well. This, he said, made it hard to explain the “great sadness” he felt at Cllr Gawthrope’s death.
“I think he was, quite simply, a lovable guy,” said Cllr Hipkin. “When you met him, you related to him on a human level. We can’t afford to lose men as good and kind as he was.”