Former council leader mourned

MID Suffolk is mourning the loss of the former leader of its council today.Roger Saunders was the leader of Mid Suffolk District Council from May 2004 until he stepped down last week due to ill health.

MID Suffolk is mourning the loss of one of its best recognised figures today.

Roger Saunders, former leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer.

The 66-year-old led the council for more than two years and in that time established himself as an effective leader, providing “good guidance”.

His widow Stella and son Robert today paid tribute to Mr Saunders character and determination.

Speaking from the family home in Mill Lane, Great Blakenham, Robert said: “I think he was very dedicated to it (the council). In all his experience of business and the world at large he was very practical and he just wanted to get things done as well as possible for the community.

“He was about getting the job done and people respected that.”

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Mr Saunders grew up in Kent and attended St Lawrence School in Ramsgate.

Both his and his wife's parents were beekeepers and that was how the couple met, marrying in 1962.

Mr Saunders began his career in the Merchant Navy working for a company called Bank Line and eventually became a captain on the ferries in Felixstowe prompting him and his wife to move to Suffolk.

The couple moved to Woodbridge when their first daughter Helen was born and there Mr Saunders took up refereering at the rugby club.

He later worked in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates as a harbour master and then general manager.

During their time there the family lived on the East Coast and Mr Saunders became the warden of the area, looking after ex-partriates before and during the Gulf War.

This led to his MBE for services overseas.

Mr Saunders got to the top of several fields but his wife said he remained modest about his achievements.

Mrs Saunders, 65, said: “He did get to the top in a quiet sort of a way. He would not brag about things and would just get on with what had to be done.”

His son added: “If he thought he could do something he would do it.

“It wasn't necessarily for self gain but was more that if he thought he could add something he would get involved that's why he was asked to take over at Fujairah.”

Mr Saunders served as a magistrate before joining Mid Suffolk council as a Conservative councillor.

Mrs Saunders said he campaigned hard to win his Bramford seat in his first election and added: “I had a bowl of water for him to put his feet in when he came back home (from canvasing).”

Instead Mr Saunders enjoyed a life on the waves, adoring shipping and owning a narrow boat in Crick in Northamptonshire.

In recent years he had arranged boating breaks away with three school friends where he had been the captain.

Poor health meant he had to miss the trip this year but he still arranged it for his friends.

His final excursion came when he and his wife visited Portsmouth to mark the Battle of Trafalgar celebrations earlier this year.

His health began to deteriorate several weeks ago and he retired from the council.

He was finally admitted to Ipswich Hospital ten days ago and lost his fight with cancer yesterday .

During his last days he enjoyed watching his other love cricket and the fourth Ashes Test was the last thing he watched before he passed away.

He leaves his wife Stella, children Robert, 35, Helen, 38, and Nicola, 42, and five grandchildren.

COLLEAGUES of Roger Saunders have today paid tribute to his guidance and committement in leading the council.

Elected as leader in May 2003 when the Conservatives took control of the administration, Mr Saunders remained in the role until ill health forced him to retire last month.

Paying tribute to him today his deputy Sara Michell said: “Roger's death is so sad.

“He never gave up, and even though he was in pain he always gave good counsel. We are so sorry for Stella, his wife, and our thoughts are with her.”

As ward councillor for Bramford and Blakenham, he enjoyed serving the community and leading the Conservative and Independent Group.

One of his key achievements as leader was to oversee the setting up of the partnership agreement with the county council and BT to form Customer Service Direct, an organisation committed to improving service to council customers.

When he took over as leader in 2003 he said: “I feel strongly, as does my group, that the people of Mid Suffolk should enjoy a good quality of life, and feel safe and cared for by the council.

“Although Mid Suffolk is a local government authority, I feel we are part of a service industry and the people of Mid Suffolk are our clients, users and customers.”

Tim Passmore, the recently appointed successor to Mr Saunders, said:

“This is a shock for us all and we are very sad. Roger gave good guidance and was an easygoing man. His qualities are going to be missed.”