TRIBUTES have been paid to former mayor and leader of South Ribble Borough Council who has died of cancer.

Tony Kelly, who was 85, was first elected to represent the the Lowerhouse ward in Leyland ward in 1974.

This would mark the beginning of a distinguished 41 year career in local politics with Councillor Kelly going on to serve as Mayor of South Ribble from 1986 to 1987 and as Leader of the Council from 1995 to 1998.

Councillor Paul Foster, the council's current leader, said: “Tony Kelly was an incredible man who actually joined the council in the year of its inception: 1974.

“He went on to achieve more than 40 years’ service an absolutely phenomenal achievement for a councillor.

“His commitment and dedication to the people of South Ribble is a wonderful legacy to leave behind and I want to pay tribute to everything he succeeded in doing for the borough and for his residents.

“In October 2014, Tony’s amazing loyalty and service was formally recognised by the Mayor of South Ribble at the time, Councillor Graham Walton, and a new award was established for South Ribble Borough Council elected members who have served for 32 years or more.

“Tony only ever took one single 12-month break from his role as a councillor in all his 40 plus years.

"I find this truly staggering and his passion was unfaltering.

“We should all look to people like Tony for inspiration, because public servants like Tony only come around very rarely.

“We send his family and friends our deepest condolences, but we also send them our sincere thanks for everything he contributed to South Ribble and its citizens.”

Councillor Kelly would also go on to serve as a Justice of the Peace and in September 2010 was awarded the Freedom of the Borough.

He stepped down from the council in May 2015.

Jane Bell, current Mayor of South Ribble and councillor for the same Seven Stars ward which Tony Kelly represented, joined Councillor Foster in paying her respects.

She said: “I am deeply saddened by this news because Tony was a good friend and a great man.

“I was elected in 2011, when Tony was still serving as a councillor after some 37 years, but I knew him before that as a friend.

“Tony was a lovely man: so passionate, so loyal, and he was a great servant of this borough.

“I know this news will be a huge blow to all who knew him, and we can only send our love and sympathy to his friends and family.

“Please remember him fondly, as I will, because Tony was a genuinely sweet, kind man who influenced the lives of many and made South Ribble a better place.”

Tony’s wife, Sheelagh, who served as his mayoress, died in 2016.

Their son, Andrew, and daughters Sharon, Christine and Ann along with their six grandchildren survive them with their first great grandchild due to be born in June 2021.

A funeral is to be held at Leyland St Mary’s Church on Friday 19 March from 12 noon with the family hoping to livestream the service online due to coronavirus restrictions.

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the Marie Curie cancer charity.