Published: 00:01, 23 May 2014
Medway could look very different if it wasn’t for Michael Lewis.
The former leader of Gillingham Borough Council has died at the age of 81, leaving a lasting legacy.
The Medway Tunnel, Medway Park, Splashes Leisure Centre and Gillingham Business Park might never have been built if it wasn’t for Mr Lewis’s determination to improve the area.
Mr Lewis fought the closure of the dockyard in 1984, and was determined to see Medway rise from the ashes.
Mr Lewis, a solicitor who ran his own firm, joined public life in 1960 as a ward councillor and went on to serve as council leader from 1968 to 1974, and again from 1976 to 1991. He was deputy mayor in 1963 and 1964.
Cllr Howard Doe, in charge of community services at Medway Council, described him as his mentor. He said: “He will be remembered as someone who stood up for Gillingham’s interests. He was an excellent speaker with a lot of vision, and someone who led from the front.
“He fought the closure of the dockyard, and then he was very much about how we would recover. Morale was right down, and he was the one who said: ‘We have got to get over this’.
“He was very much admired, and inspired a whole generation of councillors.”
Mr Lewis worked with Cllr Doe to get Splashes Leisure Centre built in Rainham. He was the mastermind behind the Black Lion Leisure Centre, now Medway Park and one of his proudest achievements.
He also advocated the building of the Medway Tunnel, and championed the creation of Gillingham Business Park.
Friend and fellow councillor John Spence said: “Were it not for what Michael did, the Medway Tunnel would never have been built. He was the main advocate and presented the case to Kent County Council.
“He was the driving force behind the acquisition of the land for Gillingham Business Park, and it stands today as one of the best business parks in the country because of its attractive layout.”
Mr Spence added: “Much of what he did is largely unrecognised and that is because he was never one to seek personal publicity. He was always involved in public life, very effectively but in a quiet way.”
Mr Lewis was also involved in public life away from the council. He was a leading Freemason, and a member of Gillingham Round Table for 15 years and of Gillingham Rotary Club for 20.
He was a member of the Rochester Bridge Trust, a member of the Medway Port Authority, and a governor at the former Woodlands School. In later life he served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent.
He leaves his wife of 53 years, Margaret, and their three children and six grandchildren.
Mrs Lewis said: “He spent his whole life trying to help the people of Gillingham. He cared so much. Although he didn’t grow up here, he made Gillingham his home, and he knew he was going to spend the rest of his life here.
“He was an avid Gillingham FC fan, something he passed on to his children and grandchildren, and we all used to go to matches together. He was adored by his children and grandchildren. He was so proud of all of them.”
Mr Lewis’s family is holding a private funeral service. A public memorial service will be held at the Garrison Church in Brompton on June 16, at 3pm.
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