THE first council election in Lyme Regis I covered as a young reporter was in 1969 when an eager young man in his 30s, brimming with energy and ideas, won a seat on what was then the Borough Council.
And so began a life of public service lasting more than 50 years for Stan Williams, Lyme born and bred, who would soon establish himself as a bit of a firebrand in a Guildhall that had seen plenty of controversy over the years.
That life ended peacefully in a care home in Seaton on Sunday with his family around him, still a member of Lyme Regis Town Council, which he had served with pride for so long.
He had been taken ill the day after the honour of being made a Freeman of Lyme Regis was bestowed upon him for his service to the town.
From day one, Stan was definitely a firm believer in the old newspaper adage: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” – the notion being that all mentions in the media aid a person’s cause, even if it shows them in a bad light.
Stan provided those who have occupied the press bench in the Guildhall with thousands of column inches of copy, never steering away from difficult issues, even if he knew they would be unpopular.
You don’t spend 50 years in local government without rattling a cage or two, or upsetting a few parishioners, but Stan would stick to his principles come what may and would always put Lyme and its people first, especially after the local government reorganisation in 1974 when Lyme lost much of its responsibility to the newly-created West Dorset District Council.
When I joined the town council in the early 1980s Stan was well-established as one of the hardest working councillors with a reputation for getting things done.
Replacing him as the youngest councillor, I learned a great deal from Stan and admired his passion for all things Lyme and his commitment to doing the best for the town.
The relationship between the town council and West Dorset was extremely fragile and when I served as mayor for one year in 1984 I attempted to improve this.
But it was a near impossible task with the district council chaired by the highly-experienced Headly Hayward, reluctant for Lyme to become more than a parish council with me knowing full well that Stan would never accept Lyme being run from Dorchester.
I don’t think Stan ever really accepted that Lyme was subservient to West Dorset and fought many a battle throughout the years without conceding an inch.
At times it made things difficult but Stan was insistent that Lyme should always come first.
I have one abiding memory of Stan when I was mayor. In those days the town council was really strapped for cash. I remember going down to Monmouth Beach early on Good Friday morning, where Stan was painting the white lines for the car park because we could not afford to have the work done.
At the time Stan was chairman of the Recreations Committee which covered all matters to do with the seafront and the Cobb. He held that post for several years and was responsible for building recreation revenues which kept the town council solvent.
Stan had many an argument in the council chamber, some of which got quite heated, but unlike the infantile antics of some of our present councillors, Stan never carried a grudge. When the meeting was over, that was the end of the matter and they would all go off to the pub. He had no time for cliques within the council.
Stan went on to hold most senior posts in the council and was proud to serve as mayor for two years in the 1990s, carrying out his duties in exemplary fashion.
But there was more to Stan than just council work. Outside the council chamber he had many interests. I first got to know him through football but our paths crossed frequently with his support for the sailing club, lifeboat, twinning association, Royal British Legion and Woodmead Halls.
One of his greatest achievements was putting the Woodmead Halls on a firm financial footing. When he took over the running of the halls, then known as Lyme Regis Leisure Centre, it was in danger of folding and had been dormant for some time. He formed a committee of willing helpers and set about making it one of the best community centres in Dorset.
I took over as chairman when Stan was made life president of the Woodmead Halls Management Committee, a role which I am relinquishing in a few weeks.
Had it not been for Stan and his happy band of volunteers, the Woodmead Halls would not be in the strong financial position that it is today.
After being made president, Stan still visited the halls most days of the week to assist the voluntary maintenance team and on one occasion, not so long ago, we found him on top of the flat roof wearing just Crocs sandals. We had a bit of a problem getting him down and thought for one moment we might have to call the fire brigade. This was a man well into his 80s!
I will also remember Stan for his happy disposition. He led a lively social life and I have many happy memories of the time when he ran the Beachcomer Cafe in Coombe Street.
In those days stag nights were usually a tour of all the pubs before ending up at the Beachcomber in the early hours for steak and chips. They were riotous occasions.
No one will ever match Stan’s 50 years as a councillor. For me, his greatest quality was his passion for his hometown – his desire to see the town prosper – and his zest for life.
When Stan was made a Freeman of Lyme many thought he would retire from the council. But that was never going to happen and he was adamant that he would return to the council chamber despite his illness.
His death means there will now be another vacancy on the council.
Not enough council taxpayers requested an election to fill the last vacancy, which was filled by co-option instead, but I believe there will be sufficient interest for an election to be called this time, if for no other reason than to prevent the cliques extending their numbers.
Following in Stan’s footsteps, however, will not be an easy task. We shall miss him greatly.