Minute’s silence to honour the memory of two former East Cambridgeshire councillors

A minute’s silence was observed by East Cambridgeshire District Council last night as a mark of respect following the deaths of two former councillors.

Graham Steward had been Labour member for Sutton from 1991-2003 and John Willson had been an independent member for Ely West from 1991-1995.

Mr Willson died last month at Cottenham Care Home, aged 82.

He had twice been mayor of Ely and was known locally as ‘Mr Tesco’ having been store manager in the city for many years.

Council chairperson Lis Every said she did not think there were any members still on the council who had served with Mr Willson.

Mr Willson, a widower, was described his family as “an amazing dad to Chris and father-in-law to Kirsi. He was deeply loved by many and will be sadly missed by all.”

Chris wrote at the time: “Dad loved life and gave to the community in his twice being mayor of Ely and his many years of service as a manager at Tesco”.

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Cllr Lorna Dupre paid tribute to Mr Steward, who also died last month, a day after his 83rd birthday.

With permission, she read a tribute to Mr Steward that had been penned by Bill Owen, a former councillor for Sutton,

“Graham will be grieved by his many friends and colleagues, and his family - wife Ann, children Jo, Will, Kate, and grandson Toby,” she said.

Graham retired early from his role as an advisory headteacher in Inner London in 1987 and moved full-time to Sutton where he enjoyed cattle droving, fishing, gardening, and shooting rabbits and pigeons for his many farmhouse culinary recipes.

Graham joined the Sutton and District Labour Party in the early 90’s and became an enthusiastic campaigner, collecting petitions and organising numerous events, often playing his guitar on the streets and markets in the constituency and singing amusing and protest songs that he had honed in his years as a leading member of the Woodcraft Folk.

He successfully contested the district council seat for Sutton and represented the villages of Sutton and Mepal for almost two terms before retiring in 2001.

Cllr Dupre said he was instrumental in forming the first ever formal political grouping on the council.

“His passion for community was energetic and committed, helping many disadvantaged groups and individuals,” she said.

He was chair of Mepal Outdoor Centre trustees for many years and was a huge advocate for the youth service and its many clubs as well as instigating a consultation and report back to his constituents at nearly every Mepal and Sutton Parish Council meeting.

“The community can thank Graham for the establishment of Sutton’s Feast Week and subsequently its many successful activities,” said Cllr Dupre.

He was its first chair and instigator of the Feast in 1999, and all children were in receipt of an etched Millennium glass and candle.

“It was formally inaugurated in the village on New Year’s Eve 1999 with a parade and bonfire with Stan and Peter Smith’s magnificent firework display,” she said.

“It has, for 20 years, been a great success and village unifier. A wonderful legacy that Graham leaves to Sutton.”

Graham’s love of folk music saw him, along with his wife Ann, form the Red Rose folk group, playing twice a month in both the Chequers in Sutton and the Three Pickerels in Mepal.

Cllr Dupre said that many artistes and amateurs attended these sessions which lasted for years and raised thousands of pounds for local charities.

Graham’s musical talents took him to many old people’s homes, and he entertained groups of learning-disabled children, adults, and those with mental health issues.

A big supporter of the pub as a community hub, he also started folk sessions in many pubs around East and South Cambridgeshire before becoming a founder member of the successful folk and ceilidh band Eel Pie along with his wife Ann, Ray Dron, and the sadly also recently-deceased members John Crowe and Terry Stoodley.

Another of his lifelong passions was tending his extensive garden and growing his huge array of vegetables.

He died peacefully in his sleep the day after his 83rd birthday, having been cared for at home by his family.

There are plans for a wider celebration of his life at a time to be determined after coronavirus restrictions can be safely lifted.