Ray Darby, RIP.

I spent a decade writing about local politics, and like to think I came away with some insights. While there were politicians who were there to climb a rung on a ladder or to further their own career in some way, most took the plunge into politics as they believed they could contribute. Seeing such characters was a huge relief: while they were there, politics could work for the greater good.

Those who did fit this category – and it was not exclusive to a single party – would often become disillusioned at the processes and aggression of the chamber. Many good people would not make it through a term, or simply not stand once another election rolled around.

Yet one councillor managed to stay the course for near on a decade without compromising his values, and always being a kind polite man, regardless of who he was talking to. So it is with a very heavy heart to announce that Cllr Ray Darby, Stapleford councillor on, has died.

I confess an extended interest: I’d known Ray a long time before he got into politics. His children, Richard and Caroline, are old friends of mine: I’ve been on holiday with both, separately, and Caroline was the Best Man at my wedding (I also attended her hen-do: an evening of fun in Cardiff, dressed in the uniform of the other attendees involving a tu-tu, tights and pink boa. I was on the wagon at the time and if you ever want a tougher test of avoiding booze, you won’t find one). They are both extraordinary people who I’m proud to have as pals.

The family are extremely close to each other, so I cannot imagine the loss of this devoted father and grandfather. He was the type of friend’s dad who had every right not to like the snotty teenage oik his daughter hung around with, but did, and was instead always friendly and tolerant of our excesses. He could be deeply, wryly funny with a fine line in dad jokes. He had that boyish curiosity that lends a youthfulness to the ageing, a spark in his eye.

He loved, and he was loved.

I remember well his face at Caroline’s wedding, 12 or so years ago. The pride, the sheer pride, as his eyes jewelled with tears as he walked her up the aisle. The delight he took in other’s happiness: when I’d see him in later life I’d tell him about things in my life, and he’d be delighted that I hadn’t screwed things up when all the evidence of the early years of knowing him suggested that was inevitable.

He was first deputy Mayor, then Mayor of Stapleford, which gave him great pride. It is rare in politics, where partisanship is baked into the deal, to never hear a bad word about a councillor. But Ray was liked across the board, his quiet dignity and duty winning friends of all political stripes. He served his community with the simple belief that if you love your town, your duty was to serve it as well as you possibly could. That simple ideology remained untarnished during his tenure, and was an example to all.

He died last week after contracting Covid and rapidly becoming very ill. Whisked to hospital in Derby, he initially rallied but then succumbed. He never quite reached his ambition: to serve as Mayor: we are all the poorer for that.

If you live on through the work you did while alive, Ray has two strong cases for some terrestrial afterlife. First, his decency as a councillor will, I hope, motivate others to look upon others with kinder eyes, and put service to their area above tribalism.. And secondly, he will live on through his children, and his grandchildren, who have his smile, his kindness, his caring nature. A modest, quiet man, he didn’t want to change the world. Yet he shone brightly on all he met, and that, to me, is a much finer legacy.

RIP Ray Darby.