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The chains are important – not the man

By Chris Hunter

Tonight Mayor of Medway Cllr Barry Kemp will take off the chains he’s been wearing for the last two years and hand them to his successor Cllr Stuart Tranter.

And it will come as a relief.

Not that they’re that heavy – it’s just he can finally give up those free lunches.

Nicola Heavens (NICU Nurse) and Mayor Barry Kemp with baby Kyra who was born on May 10.

“Free lunches are fine but you can have too much of a good thing,” he said at the end of his last full week before stepping down. My waistline has increased enormously.

“That’s one of the things my wife has told me – to get the weight down. It’s all very nice but it’s not what I’ll miss the most.”

The admission might prompt some sniggering in council chambers – or should that be scoffing? – but anyone who knows Cllr Kemp will know he’s had a lot on his plate both literally and figuratively.

While most mayors do a one year stint, Cllr Kemp found himself embarking on a double shift last year – after his planned successor Josie Iles lost her council seat in the local elections – while taking on further political responsibilities at the same time.

Mayor of Medway Cllr Barry Kemp with Kathy Doughty at the Diabetes UK Roadshow.

“It’s certainly been an interesting couple of years,” he said. “It was a challenge because you don’t expect to be mayor two years running.

“We had made arrangements to do things with the family and accept positions such as chair of the audit committee and group whip.

“I had family and political commitments and I’m organist at Rainham church. In the first year I took a year off as organist but I couldn’t expect them to give me a second year off.

“But I think we coped pretty well. It’s been a team effort.”

Despite those pressures, Cllr Kemp looks back fondly at highlights of his time as Medway’s first citizen; among them the dedication service, his duties as Admiral of the River Medway, the celebrations of the siege of Rochester and Magna Carta, as well as graduation ceremonies and citizenship ceremonies.

At the Dickens Festival 2015. L-R: Carl Madjitey, Alvin Oades, Howard Doe and Barry Kemp

“We’ve got four universities and I try to attend at least one ceremony per session,” he said.

“I think it’s important because a lot of students come from Medway and I think it’s right and proper that the mayor, as first citizen, joins the celebrations with them. Citizenship is something we take for granted and it’s quite heartwarming to hear their stories.”

Beyond that he has raised £14,000 to be split between his charities – Making Miracles, Holding on Letting Go, Friends of Wisdom Hospice and the Oliver Fisher Special Care Baby Unit.

Mayor of Medway Cllr Barry Kemp giving a cheque to the Neo-natal unit, Medway Maritime Hospital

“It’s been a good year,” he added.

Mayoral duties will then fall on the shoulders of Cllr Stuart Tranter, who is set to be appointed at tonight's Annual Council meeting, and Cllr Kemp’s advice is to not let the role go to his head.

“I wish him luck. He will be different to anybody else and I think he will do a good job.

“He will be enthusiastic and will be good for Medway, but with the proviso he’s got to realise it’s the chains that are important, not the person wearing them.”

And if Cllr Tranter needs any more advice he’ll have to head out to the golf course, where Cllr Kemp intends to spend more time when he’s not with his family or at council meetings.

“My golf has suffered seriously,” he added.

“I’m lucky if I get out once a month. I went out the other day and I was so bad it was embarrassing.”

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