Published: 00:01, 09 September 2016
| Updated: 10:43, 09 September 2016
Highly-respected councillor Mike O’Brien has died after a battle with cancer.
The retired insurance broker, who was in his early 70s, passed away last night.
The councillor, a leading pillar of the community in Rainham, won widespread respect for his role as head of children’s services.
When he took on the role three years ago Cllr O’Brien pledged to visit every one of the 100 plus schools in Medway within six months - and he did.
Married to Sheila, grandfather Cllr O’Brien lived in Herbert Road, Rainham.
Family, friends and colleagues have been paying tribute to him.
His grandchildren have described him as a hero, role model and the best granddad they could have asked for.
His colleagues from both sides of the political arena have praised his tireless efforts to improve standards across the Towns.
Conservative group leader Alan Jarrett, said : "He was a wonderful friend to all and an outstanding and dedicated councillor and cabinet member, who I and fellow councillors thoroughly enjoyed working with.
"Our thoughts are with Sheila, Martin and the rest of his family at this difficult time.
"Mike was incredibly committed to his children’s services portfolio and despite his illness over recent months he continued to work.
"I enjoyed visiting him at his home to update him on council business and to catch up with a good friend.
"Over the years Mike achieved many things, but his biggest passion was by far his family – his wife Sheila, two children and six grandchildren."
Medway Labour Group said he will be greatly missed from the council chamber.
Cllr Dan McDonald, Labour councillor for Gillingham South Ward and a friend, said: “Mike and I may have been on different sides of the political spectrum but he was somebody who always supported me in a professional and personal capacity and I thank him for that.
“He was an inspirational community ambassador who always sought to put his residents in Rainham Central above all else. His hard work and dedication as a councillor, as the portfolio holder for children and young people and as a community campaigner were outstanding and, even throughout his recent illness his passion for change and his dedication to his role remained the same.
“He was a gentleman who was taken far too soon and I know that councillors from all sides of the chamber will join me in sending their best wishes to Sheila and his family.”
Medway Labour group leader, Cllr Vince Maple, also paid tribute to Mike’s work.
He said: “Mike and I had many political disagreements but they were always conducted in a polite and respectful manner. I had a great deal of time for Mike personally and I am truly saddened by his passing.
"I particularly valued our joint visits to the National Citizen Service Programme where we would look to inspire young people to become more interested in politics.
“I know that Mike worked incredibly hard in his capacity as a local councillor and as the portfolio holder for children and young people as well as his previous portfolio of community safety and it is right that I place on record my thanks to him for that.
“The council chamber will be a lesser place without Mike’s wit and strong debating style. He will be missed by all who knew him personally. The thoughts of the whole of the Labour Group are with Mike’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
Priti Joshi, president of Medway Hindu Community Centre and chair of Medway Ethnic Minority Forum, said: “A very sad day today. We have lost a great friend, and colleague who always had time and listening ears, a passionate champion of children and young people.
"Mike, I feel greatly privileged to have walked alongside you for a while in this life. I know I speak for the whole community when I say you leave a great void in Medway. Rest in peace Mike.”
Cllr O'Brien grew up in the Medway area, attending Rochester Math School and the Training Ship Arethusa before joining the Royal Navy in 1959, where he became a radio supervisor for electronic warfare.
In 1979, Mike formed his own Insurance and Finance Brokerage in Rainham and played an active role in the community. He was a founder member and chairman of the National Federation of the Self-Employed (Medway), chairman of the Rainham Traders Association and the Corporation of Finance Brokers.
Later, Mike became a lecturer in key skills at Canterbury College.
He was a school governor of St Margaret's Infant School in Rainham and a member of the Management Committee of Parkwood Youth Club. He also served as a Justice of the Peace for 14 years.
He was elected to Gillingham Borough Council in 1976 and in 1979 was elected to represent Riverside Ward on Kent County Council.
In 1996, Mike became the Conservative Group Leader on Gillingham Council.
In 2007 he was elected to represent Medway Council Rainham Central Ward, twice winning re-election in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
In 2010 he was appointed to the cabinet first holding the community safety and customer contact portfolio between 2010 and 2013 before becoming portfolio holder and lead member for children services in 2013.
Cllr Jarrett added: "Mike’s passing is a great loss to the council, children’s services, Rainham Central Ward and the community as a whole.
"I will miss him tremendously, as will all who had the pleasure of working with him."
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