It’s been a sad Christmas for me because it started with the news that my friend and former Colchester Council colleague Martin Hunt died on Christmas Eve.
I’d known Martin for around ten years, going back to when I was first a candidate for the council. I can remember him at a meeting where we were discussing our potential election manifesto and he was criticising it from two grounds that defined his career. First, there were the strong liberal principles that drove his politics, and second, the desire for clear and understandable language that came from his career as a journalist and sub-editor. He could sometimes be annoying in the way he’d speak up for one or both of those values, but he’d rarely be wrong when he did.
Martin was both the first and last Liberal Democrat group leader I served under during my time on the Council, taking over the role in 2007 when the group was at a low ebb, having shrunk down to just 19 councillors. Thanks to his leadership, we were able to refocus ourselves and make the gains at the next set of council elections which allowed us to move from opposition back into power. I think he was as surprised as anyone that we did make those gains, and he hadn’t considered that we might move into power after his first set of elections as leader.
It was coming into power which gave Martin the responsibility of completing the Firstsite project, the problems with which had provided some of the reasons for us winning so many council seats. It seems odd to remember it now, but when we came into power, the prospect of Firstsite being completed and opened seemed very remote. It’s a tribute to Martin’s tenacity and diplomacy that he was able to negotiate between the many funders, builders, project managers, architects and others to get work on the building restarted and then to see it through to completion and opening. It’s rare for councillors to leave behind lasting physical reminders of their time in office, but Martin has two of his. As well as Firstsite, he was also – before I lived in Colchester – chair of the committee that built Leisure World, an experience that helped him with getting Firstsite completed twenty years later.
Throughout our time on the council, Martin’s experience and knowledge made him a great source of advice and wisdom to be and others. His twenty-nine years as a councillor meant he had great experience of what had happened before, but he also understood that things changed and moved on in local government, as in everything else, and he understood the importance of learning from the past while not believing it was a golden age that should be repeated uncritically.
One thing obvious to anyone who knew Martin was how much he loved his family, and my thoughts are with them as they deal with his death. He would speak of them often, with an obvious pride for all they accomplished and a delight at getting to be a grandfather. Family business was always much more important to him than Council business, and I recall several meetings ending very promptly in order for him to be with them.
Accepting the fact of any death is always a long and hard process, and I still can’t quite believe that Martin won’t be with us any more. I’ll remember so many thing about him, from his ability to be heard with respect from all sides in the council chamber to the fact that he and Nick Cope made up what must be one of the tallest ward teams in council history, but most of all I’ll remember that he was an excellent person, and we’re all worse off without him.