Tributes have been paid to former chief executive of Gateshead Council Sir Les Elton who has died aged 67.
After being as one of the longest serving chief executives in the country, Sir Les retired from the council to take up a new job as chairman of the Port of Tyne.
He was knighted for services to local government and has been involved in key regional milestones including the development of the Metrocentre, the National Garden Festival, the Angel of the North, the Baltic gallery, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and The Sage Gateshead music centre.
He died at the weekend after suffering from a long illness.
Council leaders and former work colleagues came together to pay tribute to a “visionary leader”.
Sir Les was appointed as chief executive of Gateshead Council in July 1984 after previously being director of policy services for Newcastle City Council and deputy director of administration for Stockport Borough Council.
Leader of Gateshead Council Mick Henry said: “Those of us who worked with Sir Les Elton knew him as a man of considerable ability and a strong visionary leader.
“Under his leadership, Gateshead Council became an excellent performing council which was committed to delivering services of the very highest standard.
“This provided the platform for Gateshead’s transformation. He made spectacular things happen.
“At a national level, he made significant contributions to improvements in local government, which have made a difference and improved millions of peoples’ lives.
“Sir Les Elton helped to bring the world to Gateshead’s door and was immensely proud of the borough and the region.
“His inspirational leadership, embracing innovation and change, ensured that the world knew that the North East was open and ready for business.”
Children’s commissioner for England Dr Maggie Atkinson, who worked alongside Sir Les at the council, said: “Like so many others I look back and reflect on the borough’s ambition, driven by creative and committed councillors, but steered safely in even choppy waters by Les as chief executive working for and advising them with characteristic straightforwardness to temper his ability and wisdom.
“He made himself my personal and professional mentor in my early days in Gateshead, in the months leading to his retirement, and I remain deeply grateful to him for that.
“After he retired our paths crossed now and then, not least as he chaired Northumbria University’s governing body.
“He was always a pleasure to meet, never more so than when we were no longer boss and employee.
“Others who knew and worked with him for far longer than I did will say a lot more about him.
“I remember him best as a fiercely proud leader and manager, whose humour lay behind that first impression, but was as abiding and deep as his directness, which was what you met first.
“He will, I have no doubt at all, be greatly mourned and missed.
“And by me, very fondly remembered and thanked.”
Sir Les, who is originally from Lancashire and a graduate of Manchester University, was also clerk to the Northumbria Police Authority for 19 years and clerk to the Lieutenancy of Tyne and Wear.
He retired from the council in 2004 and was knighted in October 2004 by The Prince of Wales.
He became consultant and visiting professor at the University of Newcastle Business School and governor of Northumbria University.
He also became chair of Northern Film and Media and was appointed to the Board of Port of Tyne in July 2004 for an initial three years, before becoming chairman in 2012.
Vice-chancellor and chief executive of Northumbria University professor Andrew Wathey, said: “We are saddened by the news of Sir Les Elton’s death and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.
“Northumbria University was fortunate indeed to benefit from Sir Les’ wise support and effective advocacy.
“He brought real expertise and skill to the University at an important time in our development.
“He recognised the benefits that a successful internationally visible university with good research and teaching could bring to the region’s culture and communities.
“The University has benefited in many ways from his guidance.”
Port of Tyne chief executive officer Andrew Moffat said: “He was an insightful and inspirational leader whose major contribution to the Port of Tyne was to ensure that the ambition for the growth of the business could be delivered and this was achieved during his time on the board and whilst he was chairman. He will be greatly missed.”
Anthony Sargent, General Director of Sage Gateshead, said: “For the decade before I moved here in 2000 I had watched Gateshead from afar, marvelling at the seemingly unstoppable flow of extraordinarily ambitious projects, the piercingly clear vision, the courage, and the integrity which seemed to characterise everything the council attempted.
“Never imagining I’ld one day work here, I wondered how all that happened – what organisational wizard, what pioneering leader was behind all those successes?
“Within days of arriving here, I understood - seeing at first hand Les Elton’s unique combination of unquenchable ambition for his adopted borough, his kindness to people who needed his help, and always that mischievously twinkling sense of humour.
“Watching him conjour out of the ground, seemingly with his bare hands, project after project was to marvel at a master class in civic leadership.
“He was an extraordinarily special, magnificent leader, whose legacy is visible everywhere around us.
“We are all in his debt, and our hearts go out to Christine with whom he forged such a devoted, loving partnership...”