Tributes to Legion stalwart

ONE of the best-known figures in Ipswich has died just days before he was due to help lead Remembrance Day celebrations.Reg Driver was president of the Ipswich Royal British Legion.

ONE of the best-known figures in Ipswich has died just days before he was due to help lead Remembrance Day celebrations.

Reg Driver was president of the Ipswich Royal British Legion. He had been chairman, poppy appeal organiser, and parade organiser at the memorial in Christchurch Park.

Just two weeks ago he was on the Cornhill in Ipswich for the parade by members of the Army Air Corps - a move which prompted a mild rebuke from borough chief executive James Hehir.

Mr Hehir said: “It was quite a cold day and Reg was there, as ever, in his blazer, shirt and tie. He looked freezing so I told him off for not wearing a coat and offered to lend him mine - but he refused the offer.”

Mr Driver, 88, of The Lawns, was in hospital for a routine operation when he suffered a heart attack and died yesterday.

He had been planning to be out of hospital and able to take his usual place at the remembrance ceremony on Sunday.

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He is the second major loss for the legion in little over a year - his successor as chairman, Peter Thompson, died in 2006.

Robin Vickery is the current chairman of the Royal British Legion and a close friend of the Driver family. He was with Mrs Driver as her husband died last night.

He said: “Reg was an amazing person - he did so much for the town and especially the Legion. It is especially poignant that he has died at this time of the year.

“He was planning to lead the memorial at the second world war cemetery on Saturday and to be at the main Remembrance Day ceremony on Sunday.

“It should have been just a routine hospital procedure, but he had a heart attack and deteriorated.”

Mr Driver served with the Royal Corps of Signals during the second world war and was serving in North Africa when his unit was captured by the Germans. He spent the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps.

Mr Vickery said: “They were in camps in Yugoslavia but as the fighting got near they would be moved. Eventually they were in the heart of Europe and Reg said every day there seemed to be fewer guards as they were trying to run away.

“Eventually the prisoners were just abandoned and made their own way to the allied lines.”

At the end of the war Mr Driver returned to Ipswich and worked for the auctioneers and estate agents Knights in Diss and Stowmarket for many years.

As well as being a stalwart of the Royal British Legion, Mr Driver was also a keen member of the Conservative party and for many years a member of Ipswich council.

He was group leader for a time - and had Labour not been in control of the council would certainly have been mayor of the town.

Mr Driver also leaves two grandchildren, Abby and Joe and a son-in-law Chris. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

TRIBUTES were quick to flow in from all sections of the town as news of Mr Driver's death came in.

Ipswich mayor Inga Lockington was saddened to hear of the news: “Mr Driver was always such a nice man, a real gentleman.

“He and Peter Thompson did so much to get the memorial updated with names of the second world war veterans and at least they saw that achievement. But the ceremony on Sunday will not be the same without him.”

Mr Driver's deputy leader was Russell Harsant - who succeeded him as Tory leader on the borough.

He said: “Reg was 70 when he was leader and took some terrible stick over the poll tax - you had to admire the way he fought in the council chamber.”

But he was always respected by his Labour opposite number Jamie Cann. Mr Cann's son, Andrew, said today: “My father always respected him, there was a fondness there - although they were very politically-charged times with Thatcherism in full flow.”

Current council leader Liz Harsant knew him well, initially through her husband.

She said: “Reg was always the complete gentleman. It is just such a shock - it is so poignant that it should happen at this time of the year.

“A lot of people will be thinking of Reg as they pay tribute at the ceremony on Sunday.”

And council chief executive James Hehir had known Mr Driver since he sat on the interview panel that interviewed him in 1990.

He said: “We hit it off straight away. He was one of the really good people in the town and worked very hard for the legion and Ipswich as a whole.

“It was typical of him that he would be there for the parade a couple of weeks ago.”

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