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Mayor of Cambridge Nigel Gawthrope dies suddenly while on holiday

Councillor Nigel Gawthrope. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Councillor Nigel Gawthrope. Picture: Keith Heppell.

The city of Cambridge has been left shocked and saddened by the sudden death of its mayor, Nigel Gawthrope.

A keen scuba diver and underwater photographer, he died on Friday lunchtime following a dive while on holiday in Durban, South Africa, with his wife, Jenny, the mayoress. The exact cause of his death has not yet been confirmed.

Cllr Gawthrope, who was eight months in to his term of office, was elected as a ward councillor in King's Hedges in 2012, and re-elected in 2016.

Among the first to pay tribute to the Labour councillor was East of England Euro MP Alex Mayer, who said: “This is such a shock and deeply, deeply sad news.

"Nigel was a committed ward councillor in King's Hedges, and great to go out campaigning with. He always greeted you with a smile and had a great sense of humour.

"The last official engagement I joined him at was Remembrance Sunday, when, as ever, he was so proud to represent the city he loved as its mayor. My thoughts are with his family at this terrible time.”

Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of the city’s 26 Labour councillors and of the city council, said: "Our thoughts and emotions are with his wife Jenny so far away, and with Nigel's family and close friends at this truly horrible time.

"As a councillor and mayor of Cambridge Nigel served with distinction and panache and he represented so well what was best in our city including always remembering those who needed the council’s help the most.

"Nigel was a one-off and he will be hugely missed and long remembered on the council but even more so by his Labour colleagues as a friend."

Antoinette Jackson, the council’s chief executive, said: “The city has lost someone who was passionate about serving others. Nigel said at the beginning of his mayoral year that his aim was to bring the mayoralty to the people and to be very approachable. He had certainly achieved that objective and was having fantastic mayoral year.With Jenny at his side as his mayoress, they put people at their ease where ever they went. We are all shocked and very sad to lose him when he was enjoying life so much and still had so much more to give the city."

A statement from Cambridge City Council added: "The council’s thoughts are with the his wife Jenny, the mayoress, who was with him, and with his family and friends and close council colleagues as they come to terms with this devastating loss."

Cambridge's Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said he was devastated at the death of his long-time friend, colleague and fellow trade unionist. For a long period while he worked for Unison, Cllr Gawthrope was a leading figure in the printers’ union SOGAT and then Unite.

"We are all shocked and saddened at the very sad news that we have lost Nigel. He, and Cambridge, have been robbed of the second half of his mayoralty, and I have lost a good friend," he said.

"Nigel was Cambridge through and through - I've known him for many years in the trade union movement and the Labour Party, and in recent months, he and Jenny and I have done many civic events together.

“I recently spotted him striding along Mill Road in the full mayoral regalia, because he wanted the people to be able to share in his pride at being Cambridge's first citizen, and they did. He will be sorely missed, because they simply don't make them like Nigel anymore."

Cllr Kevin Price said: "Nigel was both a friend and a colleague. We had long shared a history of trades union activism within the printing industry before he joined me on the council as a Labour councillor for King's Hedges ward.

"He loved representing the ward where he grew up and many residents in the ward will share our deep shock and sadness at his untimely death."

Cllr Martin Smart said: "As a new councillor, I learned so much from Nigel who was kind and generous with his time in helping me with my role. He will always have my respect and admiration and his loss will be felt keenly in King's Hedges."

Cllr Gerri Bird said: "Nigel was a dear friend and a hard-working fellow councillor and we worked especially closely together this year with his mayoralty as I was his deputy mayor. I will miss him greatly and my thoughts and sympathy are with his wife Jenny and his family at this time."

Mike Davey, chair of Cambridge Constituency Labour Party, said: "Councillor Gawthrope was highly respected in the Cambridge Labour Party and he brought his decades of experience as a trade unionist with him along with an ability to connect with people all across the city, which served him so well on the city council and in his role as mayor. We send our deepest sympathy to his wife and family,"

The motorcycling mayor, who led the 2018 Santa Run carrying hundreds of presents to children in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, was known as a personable and gregarious character, often seen wearing bright red shoes, and able to talk to anyone with ease. A fan of Leeds United having been born in the city, he 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 took on the roles of 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.

As a councillor, he served on a host of committees, including licensing, planning, civic affairs, housing scrutiny, environment scrutiny, joint staff employment forum, employment appeals panel, civic affairs and the development plan scrutiny sub committee, serving as chairman of a number of them.

He was also keen to help good causes and fight inequality in his home city, supporting charities including the Red Hen Project, which aids children and their families in the less affluent parts of the city to overcome barriers to learning.

Before Christmas, he addressed the crowd in market square at the switching on of the Cambridge Christmas lights.

On New Year's Day, he headed to Milton Keynes to support Cambridge United, tweeting 'Come on the U's'.

Biography of Cllr Nigel Gawthrope

Adapted from Cambridge City Council

Cllr Gawthrope was born in grannie’s house in Bramley Leeds 1957. He moved to Cambridge in 1962 where he remained.

Cllr Gawthrope attended St Luke’s, St Pauls, The Grove Primary and Cambridge Grammar School for Boys, before completing an apprenticeship at CCAT in 1978.

He moved within Cambridge a number of times, residing in Bateson Road, Princes Street, Campkin Road, Grange Road, Arbury Road, Severn Place, Ekin Road, Colville Road, Hurst Park Avenue and Perse Way.

Cllr Gawthrope met his wife, Jenny, at his sister’s birthday party, followed by a further meeting at Cambridge BSAC. A couple of years later they moved in together and 10 years later they married. Cllr Gawthrope’s pet name for Jenny was ‘Head Office’ because she kept him organised.

Jenny was the East of England Regional statistician for ONS until 2013 when she took an early retirement. Since then she has been the treasurer for the local branch of Parkinson’s UK. Jenny was not only his wife - she was his best friend.

Cllr Gawthrope began his career as a bookbinder for Cambridge University Press (1974-2012), moving on to MPG Printgroup up to 2013. He faced a short period of unemployment before taking on the role of trade union tutor for Unite and industrial relations consultant. During 2016-17 he worked at the Judge Business School before securing his most recent role as a porter at Clare College.

Cllr Gawthrope had an impressive background representing a huge range of people, including the following achievements:

  • Trade Union Representative
  • Father of the Chapel at Cambridge University Press 1980/2013
  • Branch Committee member 1981/2013
  • SOGAT’s Regional Education Co-ordinator 1988/91
  • Regional Committees (SOGAT, GPMU, Amicus, Unite) 1984/2013
  • National Sector committee 2003/2014
  • Union conference delegate 1984/2013
  • TUC delegate 1990/2014
  • Member of UNITE delegation to Bolivia 2008
  • Unite delegate to ALBA conference (Managua) 2009
  • Delegate to the USW Paperworkers conference (Pittsburgh) 2010
  • Delegate to Uni Global/ Uni Europa conference 2011

After representing working people, specifically print workers, for 30 years Cllr Gawthrope wanted to branch out and represent working people in the community. A Labour party member since the 1990s, he specifically wanted to represent the area where he spent his formative years, namely King's Hedges, and was elected in 2012 followed by re-election in 2016.

In his time on the council he served on various committees: licensing, planning, civic affairs, housing scrutiny, environment scrutiny (chair), joint staff employment forum (chair), employment appeals panel and the development plan scrutiny sub committee (vice chair).

He was a keen motorcyclist, scuba diver, underwater photographer and a lifelong Leeds United supporter.

Cllr Gawthrope’s aim was to bring the mayoralty to the people, to be very approachable, and to that end he did not wear the official gown except when protocol dictated.

He wanted to focus primarily on the community, working with the business and educational communities to target the massive inequalities that exist within the city.

Internationalism was a big part of his working life and he was fully aware of the importance foreign investment brings to the city and that this also needs to be nurtured, keeping Cambridge a rich diversity of cultures that make it such a vibrant place.

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