'Taken too soon' - tributes to well-known couple who both died from Covid

Gillian and James Auton during Gillian's year as Mayor of Ipswich in 1986-7

Gillian and James Auton during Gillian's year as Mayor of Ipswich in 1986-7 - Credit: Ipswich Borough Council Mayoral Archive

Tributes are being paid to former Ipswich mayor Gillian Auton and her husband James, a chief engineer in the Merchant Navy, who have both died from Covid.

Gillian, who was borough councillor for Rushmere ward for many years, died at Ipswich Hospital on October 24, after James passed away there on February 13 this year. Gillian was 84 when she died and James was 82.

Daughter Jan Parry said: "Each were taken suddenly and too soon by Covid-19." 

Gillian and James Auton during Gillian's 'At Home' as Ipswich Mayor in June 1986

Gillian and James Auton during Gillian's 'At Home' as Ipswich Mayor in June 1986 - Credit: Ipswich Borough Council Mayoral Archive

Gillian was Ipswich mayor from 1986-87, while James also served as a Suffolk county councillor. They were both able to advise Jan when she became Ipswich mayor in 2019.

The couple, known to friends and family as Gill and Jim, both did a lot for the community. 

Jan said: "I think my parents expected you to give back. They had a strong work ethic and wanted to help other people - that was what motivated them."

Gillian Auton at a tree planted to mark her year as Ipswich Mayor

Daughter Jan Parry paid tribute to her parents. - Credit: Andrew Beal

Ipswich Labour Party secretary and deputy mayor John Cook paid tribute,  saying: "They are both fondly remembered in the Rushmere ward.

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"Jim was fairly blunt and no-nonsense. I think the first time I spoke to Gill was when she asked for Labour signs to put in her garden in Colchester Road - she said she wanted one at each end!"

James Auton with grandson Felix Parry

James Auton with grandson Felix Parry - Credit: Family of James and Gillian Auton

Gill was born in Brightlingsea on August 18, 1937, but her family moved to the Manchester area, where she grew up.

She left school at 14 and worked as a typist and secretary, meeting her future husband at a dance hall in the late 1950s.

Jim was born in Salford on June 21, 1938. He studied mechanical engineering and joined Shell Oil as an apprentice engineer.

He rose to become a chief engineer in the Merchant Navy and spent long stints away at sea during his career.

Gillian Auton explaining the symbols on the fine enamelled mayoral crest to pupils from Sproughton Primary School in 1987

Gillian Auton explaining the symbols on the fine enamelled mayoral crest to pupils from Sproughton Primary School in 1987 - Credit: Ipswich Borough Council Mayoral Archive

The couple got married in Manchester in 1958, and moved to Ipswich in the mid-1960s with their two daughters, Jan and Louise.

Jan said: "Dad was a big football fan and Manchester United was his team. I can remember going to Old Trafford with him when I was very small - it was an incredible experience.

"He said he was regularly struck by how much healthier the southern fans looked."

Jim was able to live anywhere for his work as a marine engineer, and they decided Suffolk would be a good place to move to. 

James Auton with a steam engine he built at home

James Auton with a steam engine he built at home - Credit: Family of James and Gillian Auton

The family lived in the Bramford Lane area before moving to Stoke Park and then to Colchester Road - so they knew people from all around the town.

Gill and Jim were both involved with the Labour party over many years and inspired their daughters with their strong ideals of public service.

Jan said: "My memories of campaigning go back to the 1970s. Both Louise and I were actively involved, as our house would be a campaign centre, and I joined the Labour Party in 1975 as a result."

Gill worked at Stoke Park Post Office, the Corn Exchange box office, and Bain Dawes Insurance in the 1970s, before going on to serve as mayor in the 1980s.

Gillian Auton planting a maple tree in Holywells Park, Ipswich with Ken Wilcox, Rodney Cook and Randall Bevan

Gillian Auton planting a maple tree in Holywells Park, Ipswich with Ken Wilcox, Rodney Cook and Randall Bevan - Credit: Ipswich Borough Council Mayoral Archive

She carried out a wide range of engagements around the town,  including unveiling a plaque at Ipswich Station to mark the electrification of the main line, and met Princess Diana when she officially opened Crown Pools.

Louise said: "Mum always had a lot of empathy for people that were disadvantaged for whatever reason, and she was very vocal and was not intimidated easily.

"She would always be on the side of someone having problems. Mum was genuinely a people person, right up until she needed care herself.

"She would always make sure that her carers knew what their rights were, Mum never stopped being interested or informed of social injustices."

Jan said: "One of my most recent finds amongst Mum's things were two little sketches made by Jamie Cann of his ideas for cycle paths and routes in parts of Ipswich.

"It was rather touching to find that Mum had this in her handbag and seems quite forward-thinking now."

The couple both loved travelling, frequently visiting Malta, and Gill often travelled alone to meet Jim when he was at sea. 

Louise said: "She would travel alone to join Dad, she loved South Africa, obviously not apartheid! I also remember her going to Baltimore in the USA. It didn’t faze Mum at all going all that way on her own."

Jim suffered a serious accident at sea when he was 49, leaving him with spinal injuries, and spent months in hospital.

He never fully recovered and had to stop going to sea, with the couple's travels together also being cut short.

Jim had a passion for astronomy, and used his engineering expertise to build his own large reflector telescopes. He also made impressive steam engines, as well as sundials, weather vanes and chess sets.  

"He was a brilliant engineer, and after he retired he spent more time on his own projects," Jan said.

A couple of years ago, Gill and Jim moved into Jamie Cann House in Ipswich.

They leave their daughters Jan and Louise, grandchildren Carla, Adam, James, Josh, Eleanor, Felix and Jacob and great-grandchildren Dylan and Freddie. 

Private family cremations have been held, as it wasn't possible to hold large services due to Covid.


  

  


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