Tributes to Crawley ‘pioneer’ and town’s first mayor

obby 10/6 diamond couple june & ben clay - x mayors etc
obby 10/6 diamond couple june & ben clay - x mayors etc

A long-standing Crawley councillor and the town’s first mayor has been described as a pioneer in the town after his death earlier this month.

Ben Clay served on Crawley Borough Council, and before that on the Crawley Urban District Council, for 30 years representing Northgate and Ifield.

During this time, he was appointed mayor twice - the first time in 1974 when the borough council formed. He was also leader of the council from 1978 to 1980.

He died at home on May 3 with his family around him.

His daughter Di Oakshott said: “He was very, very popular with all parties.

“To be honest, I never heard any slight rumour of anyone not liking dad. Everybody loved him.”

Ben served as a paratrooper in the Second World War. He and his wife June met at a dance in south London in 1948 and married the following year.

In 1953 they came to Crawley with the company Ben worked for, Edwards Hoover Vacuum.

He joined the council to make a difference for Crawley workers when work for them started becoming more uncertain.

A loyal Labour supporter he was first elected in 1971 serving Northgate until 1986 and then was re-elected to represent Ifield from 1992 to 2007.

June also served on the council representing Gossops Green and Northgate for 25 years, including time as the town’s first woman mayor in 1976.

Current Crawley mayor Cllr Brenda Smith served with Ben both times. She said he, along with Alf Peglar and her husband Jim, helped make the town what it is today.

“They became councillors as a result of the union upheaval. They wanted to influence the lives of all the people who were coming to settle in Crawley, who were hoping to for a better quality of life.

“They joined the urban district council and then borough council when it was given borough status.

“They were the pioneers of the town setting the pattern for Crawley being the town it is today.

“They believed people were entitled to good housing and that families should expect that.”

She added: “Ben didn’t do it on his own, but they had the vision. To leave your roots in London was an enormous thing to do. There wasn’t the opportunity in London.

“It was a cohesive movement - thousands of people coming from the slums of London from poor housing, poor schools just after the war.”

As a former footballer for Three Bridges Football Club and the Edwards’ company team he also had a passion for leisure facilities in the town.

Brenda said he was honoured to be the mayor tasked with opening both the old Crawley Leisure Centre and then the Crawley K2.

Di said her dad had a good sense of humour, which came to the fore when former deputy Labour leader John Prescott visited Crawley in the run-up to the elections this year.

She said: “I had the telly on one evening. The news came on and it was my dad being interviewed at the Crawley shops.

“They didn’t recognise him and he told them he’d be voting for UKIP.”

After his time at Edward’s Ben joined Crawley College training engineering apprentices and then moved on to be a lecturer at Kingston College.

Di said: “He used to get presents from the boys (students). He was loved by all ages.

“He was absolutely adored by the grandchildren. Even down to the great-grandchildren, they adored him.”

Ben had three children, Di, Sue and John, eight grandchildren and more than 20 great-grandchildren.

He and June celebrated their diamond wedding in 2009.

Di said he had a long history of heart problems and she and her sister Sue were among the family by his side when he died.

His funeral was on Monday when the council flew its flag at half mast in his honour.

A minute’s slience will be held at the next full council meeting.

*Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.

1 Make our website your homepage

2 Like our Facebook page

3 Follow us on Twitter

4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!

Sussex Newspapers - always the first with your local news.

Be part of it.