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Tributes to former Gravesham council leader John Cubitt, who has died after lengthy battle with illness

PUBLISHED: 10:32 14 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:57 18 August 2017

John Cubitt

John Cubitt

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The councillor stepped down from his role as leader due to ill health earlier this year

John Cubitt, Bryan Sweetland, Bob Lane took their fight against Option C to the House of CommonsJohn Cubitt, Bryan Sweetland, Bob Lane took their fight against Option C to the House of Commons

Tributes have begun pouring in for the “inspirational” former leader of Gravesham council, John Cubitt, who died on Friday.

The well-liked former leader stepped down from his senior post in March as he battled illness for most of the past year.

He began leading Gravesham in 2015, after the party took control from Labour. Despite stepping down, the 75-year-old continued to represent Meopham North, which he had served since 2007, until his death.

David Turner took the reins in the former county councillor’s absence, and only discovered of his old friend’s death after returning from holiday this weekend.

Says Cllr Turner: “I was very saddened to return and hear the news of John’s passing. I say saddened, yet there was an element of pleasure to find my email inbox flooded with warm comments from the many people he had met.

“I knew John for many years, first through our mutual love of rugby football. He was a life-long member of Gravesend RFC, joining aged 16 and playing in the 1st XV for 35 years.

“I was a referee and recall he was more gentle with me than he was with opposition, he went on to become an honorary life member and served as treasurer, then from 2014, its chairman.

“Throughout his period as leader I was his deputy and when he was forced to step down because of his growing frailty I took over the leadership role. He had a vision for Gravesham; to develop its commercial base and make it a safe place to live and work. I will strive to take that forward: It will be a part of John’s legacy.

“But above all I will remember him as a large man in all respects; a powerful rugby player and a significant servant of the community, with tenacity when seeking to deliver quality – but always sensitive to the feelings of those he worked with: Always forgiving and always displaying a warm and endearing personality.”

The popular councillor’s “vision” saw him join the Lower Thames Crossing Association, a campaign group born in opposition against the bored tunnel set for east of Gravesend by 2026.

Through the fight against Option C, the former financial adviser met lead campaigner Bob Lane.

“Everyone would listen to what John would have to say, losing him is a blow to the campaign and we will miss him very much,” said Mr Lane.

Together with fellow campaigners including county councillor Bryan Sweetland, Cllr Cubitt and Mr Lane took their fight to Westminster during a consultation on the project last year.

Cllr Sweetland, chairman of Gravesham Conservatives said: “It was a privilege to have known and worked alongside John for the last ten years and I have many fond memories of him both as a councillor and fellow Rotarian.

“He was very knowledgeable and a good leader of the council but more importantly, he was a good person and truly good people are very rare. Whenever John spoke, everyone listened. He will be a great loss to our town. We will all miss him and our thoughts are with Moira and the family”.

Added Mr Lane: “He was a really nice guy, I’m sure if he hadn’t been so unwell in the last six to 12 months he would have played a much happier part.

“But he was always so vocal and helpful in the campaign, if you look at Essex, over there the campaigners have only just started working with councillors, here the council has always made its opinion known over the past eight years, John was a big part of that, along with John Burden when it was a Labour council beforehand.”

Cllr Burden, opposition leader, had this to say: “We might have had our political differences, but we were very friendly and always put the needs of the borough first.

“He was a great councillor for his ward, we both wanted what was best for Gravesham and for that reason we combined well, it’s all you can ask for from a great leader.”

Jordan Meade was appointed into the former council leader’s cabinet after the 2015 local election, despite being aged just 19 at the time.

The member for tourism and youth described his former leader as a “friend and mentor” adding: “John was a champion for young people in Gravesham and it was he who inspired me and others to get involved in local government.

“He truly loved the local party and working for the public and his commitment to the people of Gravesham was second to none.

“John will be hugely missed by many, not only for his commitment to public life and the support and mentorship that he offered to young people like me, but for his immeasurable friendship and for his sheer willingness to give young people a chance.

“I am privileged to have had the chance to work with John, he was an inspirational leader, a real gentleman and above all, a virtuous friend.”

Outside of politics, the “unfailingly kind” father, brother and husband was a founding member of Gravesend and Meopham Rotary Club, serving as its president for two years.

He was also a trustee of the Henry Pinnocks Charity, a family trustee of the Elizabeth Huggins Cottages Charity, a governor of two primary schools, a member of Kent Police Authority and Groundwork Kent & Medway, and also served as a governor and director of Canterbury Christ Church University.

Chief executive of Gravesham Borough Council, David Hughes, added: “John was an exemplary leader to work with. He had a very clear vision of what the administration he led was seeking to achieve and communicated that effectively to me and senior colleagues so that our efforts were correctly focussed. John worked very hard to represent, protect and promote Gravesham’s interests in a variety of forums.

“On a personal level, he was unfailingly kind and supportive to those who work for the borough council at all levels and he was undoubtedly held not only in esteem but genuine affection. He will be sorely missed.”

Amongst his busy schedule of committees and charity work, the qualified electrical engineer and former lecturer was also on the board for the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation overseeing the development of 15,000 homes at the garden city.

Interim chief executive Paul Spooner had this to say: “John was very passionate about Ebbsfleet Garden City, always coming up with ideas from his years of experience in public life as to how we could drive the development forward.

“Not only was he a pleasure to have on our board but he was a genuinely nice man who will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced in due course.

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