Tributes flood in to former Ipswich mayor Roger Fern

Roger Fern at the Empire

Roger Fern enjoyed his terms as mayor of Ipswich - opening the new Empire Cinema in the Buttermarket Centre was one of his favourite jobs. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Tributes to former Ipswich mayor Roger Fern have flooded in since his death was announced - his work touched many areas of life in the town.

Mr Fern was born in the Black Country in the West Midlands - but his family moved to Ipswich in 1953 when he was a child and he lived in the area for the rest of his life.

His daughters Sue Burman and Lizzy Chittock remember him as a very loving father - taking a close interest in the family.

Mrs Burman said: "His catchphrase for us was always 'sit down, put your feet up, let's have a gossip.' He always wanted to know what the family was up to and how things were for us."

The family remember he was always busy - but always had time for them. Mrs Burman said: "His diary was full right until last Friday with people coming to see him - he was determined that his work should carry on."

He also leaves five grandchildren.

Mr Fern went to Northgate Grammar School and became a teacher, headteacher and educational advisor before he retired and became an Ipswich councillor.

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Former Northgate High School headteacher Neil Watts said: "I knew Roger for several years. As a headteacher he was always very keen to ensure that schools should work together and co-operate. That was why he ended up as an advisor to the LEA.

"For a year he ended up working with me at Northgate. We got some extra funding and were working with the LEA in co-operation with other schools - but it was taking some of my staff away from teaching so I just brought Roger in to get on and run the programme with the other schools and he was brilliant at that."

Current mayor Jane Riley said: "We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Roger Fern at this sad time. Roger served the people of Ipswich for 16 years as an Ipswich Borough councillor and carried out two terms as Mayor.

"He made many important contributions to the lives of the people of Ipswich – not just via his roles as Mayor and councillor but also via his involvement in many other local causes and organisations. Like many in Ipswich, I will miss him immensely.”

Roger Fern playing rugby

Roger Fern was always happy to get stuck in as mayor - taking part in events like this charity touch rugby tournament. - Credit: Seanna Hughes

Mr Fern's predecessor as mayor before his second term, Glen Chisholm, took to twitter to express his feelings. 

And council leader David Ellesmere added: "Roger spent his life trying to making Ipswich a better place.

"His contribution to education in our town as a teacher, headteacher and governor was immense, helping to give thousands of children a better start in life.

"The easiest election we ever had in Ipswich was when he stood as a councillor in Sprites ward. It seemed everyone had been taught by him – or their parents had – when he was headteacher at Sprites Junior and they all still held him in great affection.

"Whatever he did, he brought the same passion, knowledge and dogged determination to bear, whether it was helping to set up the Chapman Centre to provide help for homeless people, campaigning for better help for people living with dementia, his two terms as Mayor of Ipswich or helping his constituents in Sprites.

Roger Fern at Ransomes

Roger Fern and his granddaughter Ellie Griss, who was his consort during his second term as mayor, opened the new Ransomes Sports Pavilion in 2017. - Credit: Ashley Pickering

"Roger had a strong moral sense of right and wrong which came from his Methodist faith and his membership of the Labour Party and he wasn’t afraid to share this with anyone.

"When I visited him last week, although very ill, he was still busy lecturing a nurse about how the NHS was being let down by the Government!

"Above all he was a genuinely decent person. Warm and friendly, he was liked, respected and admired by all who knew him. His contribution to Ipswich cannot be overestimated and he will be greatly missed."

Mr Fern was chairman of the corporation of Suffolk New College and helped to oversee the construction of the new buildings at the campus - and it will look at creating a permanent tribute to him.

Roger Fern at Suffolk New College

Roger Fern at one of his last engagements as chair of Suffolk New College earlier this year. - Credit: John Nice

College Principal Viv Gillespie said: “I started as Principal in 2015, and Roger has supported me throughout. His passion for education was unwavering.

"He coined the phrase ‘these children only come by once’ and he was determined to ensure that everyone had the same life chances and opportunities. His positivity and ability to connect with people was second to none.

“When the time is right we will look to create a fitting tribute to honour and celebrate his legacy. For now, our thoughts are very much with all of his family and friends. He will be sorely missed.

“But in another sense I feel very lucky, as it was such an honour and a privilege to have known him and worked by his side.”

He was also a trustee of the Inspire Suffolk charity which helps to support young people who need to improve their lives.

Chair of Inspire Suffolk Terry Hunt said: “At the beginning of 2020, as the charity’s new chair, I was extremely grateful for the vast experience Roger was able to provide.

"In terms of his knowledge of the education sector he had no equal and I was extremely grateful for his willingness and diligence in taking an active role as the trustee with oversight of safeguarding for the charity.

"On behalf of the board of Inspire Suffolk, I send our deepest condolences to Roger's family at this very sad time.”

Inspire Suffolk CEO Terry Baxter added: “Roger was an important driving force in helping establish our charity when, at the time, it had strong connections to Ipswich Town Football Club.

"He was always such a positive presence, challenging but supportive and always with young people at the forefront of his thinking. Even during the period between his two terms as trustee, Roger continued to support us from afar. He will be sorely missed by everyone at Inspire Suffolk.”

Roger Fern and Paul Geater

Roger Fern and Paul Geater during a feature on cycling in Ipswich. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Mr Fern was also always happy to explain, to talk to the media to get issues across - whether on education, homelessness, care for dementia payments or many other causes dear to his heart.

On one occasion he joined me on a cycle ride around the town centre showing how easy it was to get around on two wheels - and extolling the virtues of his battery-assisted bike as I struggled with my more traditional pedals!

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