A FORMER leader of Basildon Council who served the public for more than half century will be remembered as a “champion for working people”.

Labour councillor Bill Archibald, 84, who was first elected to the authority in 1963, died today after a spell of illness.

Mr Archibald, a former Essex County Council chairman, was still a serving county councillor for Laindon Park and Fryerns at the time of his death.

Gavin Callaghan, leader of Basildon Labour, described Mr Archibald as “the towering figure” of the party in Essex.

He said: “His generations of service, his warm and friendly demeanour, sharp wit and ability to fire up local members and elected councillors, meant that he will be remembered by all as one of Essex Labour’s greatest political sons.

“His dedication to south Essex, its people and its progress, was a continuing inspiration for all who knew him.”

Mr Archibald served as leader of Basildon Council from 1971 until 1973, which was immediately followed by a year as chairman.

He was first elected to Essex County Council in 1973 and served as chairman in 1996.

David Finch, Tory leader of the county council, said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of Bill’s passing and I know that I speak for colleagues in saying he will be missed.

“While we come from different political backgrounds, we have shared some wonderful debates from across the chamber, and I was always struck by his passion, the strength of his convictions and his desire to improve the lives of his constituents.

“Bill was much loved and highly respected in the Laindon area.”

Mr Archibald was passionate about education and, as an electrician by trade, was a vocal supporter of vocational training.

Mr Callaghan believes Mr Archibald was the longest serving councillor in Basildon’s history.

He added: “Despite his illness, Bill continued to keep abreast of local issues and it was education that was his particular policy passion.

“He was uncompromising with anyone - in and out of his own political party - about what he believed had to happen with the Essex education system to allow more children from Basildon to achieve higher grades.

“He believed in local government and its ability to positively transform people’s lives for the better.

“Never once did he put himself forward to stand for parliament, despite being an outstanding candidate, such was his dedication to the local council and local issues.

“He had an insatiable nature for the politically mischievous that I always admired and he was always on hand to offer his advice and support.”