TRIBUTES are pouring in for senior and highly-respected councillor, Andy Smith, who died yesterday at the age of 64.

Mr Smith, Labour leader of the council between 2000 and 2004, was cabinet member for Regeneration, Highways and Transportation and Labour ward councillor for West Thurrock and South Stifford.

He won re-election to the seat in May, having first been elected as a councillor in 1997.

Thurrock Council has led the tributes calling Mr Smith the borough’s most experienced councillor.

Council leader, John Kent, said: "Andy and I go back a long, long way and this shocking news has hit me personally. His loss will also have an impact on many people.

"Andy was a tremendous and hard-working councillor and was well known among his current constituents in West Thurrock and South Stifford ward.

“But I am sure there will be thousands of local people in Tilbury and Stifford Clays who owe him a debt of gratitude from when he was their representative in the early years of this century and the closing years of the last.

"Andy never shirked responsibility, whether it was leading the council and borough into a new era, or thinking about the effect any decision we took on ordinary, Thurrock families.

"He could have taken the mayoralty at any time - he was the longest-serving member - but the fact he felt taking a step back from the day-to-day decision making to help local people was wrong for him personally sums up his work ethic.

"I will miss him. We all will miss him. Thurrock will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers are with those closest to him."

Colin Ricks, chair of the Thurrock Labour Party has also paid a touching tribute, calling Mr Smith a “positive voice from the floor”.

He said: "On behalf of Thurrock CLP I would like to extend the party's sympathy to Andy's family.

"He will be sorely missed by party members and his fellow councillors. Andy worked tirelessly for the residents of West Thurrock, South Stifford and Purfleet only recently being re-elected in May this year.

"At party meetings Andy would always be a positive voice from the floor, offering advice and guidance to less seasoned members of the party.

“Future meetings will miss the contributions he provided to the debate, whatever the topic.

"Thurrock Labour Party has lost a councillor, comrade, friend and stalwart in the best traditions of the Labour movement and our party will be a sadder place without him."

Prospective Labour MP for Thurrock, Polly Billington, called Mr Smith a dedicated councillor who was committed to residents he represented.

She said: "Andy was a dedicated councillor committed to improving the lives of the residents he represented.

“Andy listened and acted on residents' concerns and aspirations. He was also a man of strong values, who fought and defeated the racism and intolerance of the BNP at the ballot box.

“He believed that Thurrock could be a strong and confident community, even as it changed rapidly over the years he was a councillor, but only if we choose to make it so."

Mr Smith, of Nutberry Avenue, Grays, also served as a councillor in Tilbury, before transferring to serve in West Thurrock – He first became a councillor in the 1980s.

In a statement to council colleagues, the authority's chief executive Graham Farrant said: "At this difficult time we should all reflect on our memories of Andy who has made a major contribution to the work of the council – and the borough as a whole - over more than two decades.

"He has made a particularly strong contribution to the regeneration and growth of Thurrock and I have valued his enthusiasm over this period, having first met him as Leader in 2000.

"Our thoughts and prayers will be with his family at this time."

Graham Snell, Thurrock Ukip leader, has paid tribute to Mr Smith. He said: “I was saddened to hear about the death of Cllr Andy Smith.

“I didn't know him well but his record over many years of dedicated service to the people of Thurrock speaks for itself.

“On behalf of myself and the UKIP group, I would like to offer my condolences to his family and friends at this sad time, he will be greatly missed.

Rob Gledhill, leader of the Conservative group in Thurrock, said: "We are sorry to hear of the passing of Councillor Andy Smith and would pass on our condolences to his family.

"Cllr Smith had served the residents of Thurrock for over two decades and will no doubt be missed by many. His years of experience and dedication to politics and the community in Thurrock will not be soon forgotten."

Andrew Mackinlay, the last Labour MP in Thurrock, who stood down in 2010, said: "I am totally shocked and saddened. He was totally committed to Thurrock, his council work and wider public service.

"He knew the borough intimately and the people of his ward, West Thurrock & South Stifford, in particular.

"I remember canvassing with him in Purfleet earlier this summer and saw at first hand his great popularity with his constituents: an affection based on long, diligent commitment and service.

"Thurrock has lost a great champion. He was a proud socialist. I greatly enjoyed his friendship and company over many years. I shall miss campaigning with him."

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