Published: 00:00, 25 May 2014
To some, the role of mayor is the living embodiment of an anachronism; a purposeless luxury which has no place in a modern Britain where vital community services are being axed or sliced to the bone on a seemingly daily basis.
But having just completed a year in office, Cllr Sue Gent is convinced the public appetite for a non-political civic ambassador remains keen.
She said: “We should keep the role of mayor for the ordinary people.
“For me it was a challenge, but whenever I was asked to open something, I would do it and it would make some person’s day.”
During her year as mayor, which ended last Tuesday, Cllr Gent, of West Green, Kemsley, attended 251 official engagements, raising £5,551 for her chosen charities, Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes.
And while her status added a certain gravitas to many an official ceremony or function, she kept a few off-diary appointments, too.
“I attended two 100th birthday parties, both at Blair Park in Sittingbourne, and a 60th wedding anniversary,” she said.
“People didn’t always expect me to turn up, but when I did, they were over the moon.”
Explaining why she sometimes went beyond the call of duty, she added: “I’m a people person.
“If I saw you in the street I’d stop and talk to you.”
The 63-year-old said she never coveted the mayoral position, but nonetheless saw it as an “honour and a privilege” when she replaced Cllr Ben Stokes in the role last year.
She said the highlight of her reign was a trip – along with students from Swale – to Ypres in Belgium for the Journey of Commemoration, to honour those killed in the First World War.
It involved a procession through the town’s streets to the Menin Gate memorial.
“It was a day I’ll never forget,” she said. “When we joined the People’s Parade towards the Menin Gate, I was struck by how quiet and respectful people were.”
Another memorable invite was to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Garden Party last summer.
Despite a hectic year-round schedule of ribbon-cutting, speech-making and glad-handing, Cllr Gent appears to have never been burdened by the weight of public responsibility – even if the official uniform itself was hardly made to measure.
“The robes were quite heavy, and being short, they were quite long on me,” she said.
“I wore them at all civic occasions I attended, but not at full council meetings.”
With close attention paid to the public purse strings, there are few occasions these days when the culinary red carpet is rolled out for a lavish mayoral function.
Banquets might be off-menu, but the civic head can still expect to eat their way through a fair weight of sausage rolls, biscuits and assorted “refreshments” during their 12-month appointment.
Cllr Gent claimed said she was never tempted to over-indulge...much.
“I avoided all the cakes as best I could,” she said. “And my doctor said I’ve lost weight since I’ve been mayor.
“Besides, being diabetic I have to be careful what I eat.”
A “fantastic year” where she met some “lovely people from different organisations”, the mayoral experience was clearly a positive one for Cllr Gent.
What advice did she have for the incumbent, Cllr George Bobbin?
“Be yourself, enjoy every moment, and if you get the chance to do something, do it.”
Cllr Gent says she’s looking forward to a short break before getting into the “full swing of things” as Conservative ward member for Kemsley.
Then there’s the impending birth of her latest grandchild to look forward to, the 24th born to her eight children. Having achieved relatively high office, she remains ambitious.
“I want to live to be a 100,” she said.
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