'A man of principle': former Havering mayor Del Smith dies aged 73
- Credit: Keir Smith
A former mayor of Havering and devout environmentalist has passed away, aged 73.
Del Smith grew up in Harold Hill and was an active campaigner in the Havering community throughout his life.
He died from prostate cancer on August 2 in Aberdeenshire, where he had lived with wife Gaynor since 2006.
The father-of-three will be remembered for his socialist ideals and commitment to his community, said his friends and family.
A carpenter by trade, Del was also a keen entomologist, with a particular interest in identifying flies, and he worked with the Essex Field Club for many years.
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He and Gaynor met in 1969, and married the following year at a Brentwood registry office.
The couple went on to have three children- Cher, Che, and Keir - all named after socialist revolutionaries.
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Gaynor said her husband proudly watched their six grand-children and one great-grandchild grow up, particularly when they took an interest in cricket.
Political activism was at the centre of Del’s world, and in the late 1990s the long-serving councillor and his allies broke away from the local Labour Party, following disagreements with the branch leadership.
The so-called Gang of Four formed a new socialist alliance, made up of Del, Tony Hunt, Dennis Cook and Mike Davis.
Recalling Del's decision to leave the Labour Party, Gaynor said: “I respected his wishes and views, and knew he found it a very difficult thing to do, but I wasn’t surprised, as it had been brewing for a while.”
When Labour lost its stronghold in the borough, Del formed a new Rainbow Alliance - a coalition council with him serving as mayor from 1997 to 1998.
Gaynor remembered that the idea of becoming a mayoress did not really appeal to her.
She explained: “Being a feminist, this really wasn’t my thing so I didn’t enjoy it that much.
“I was working full-time, but at the weekends he would get me out of the house in my chains.”
As a teenager at the time, the couple’s youngest child Keir said he had found his parents' mayoral positions “quite embarrassing”.
“I remember going to his office in the town hall, and being quite impressed with the grand furniture,” Keir said.
“It was so different from my dad’s working-class roots and beliefs.”
Keir, named after founder of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, stressed how much his father had achieved in his life.
“He was always a hard-working man,” he explained.
“He would come home from work and spend the evening talking to residents who needed help.
“He was a lot of different things to different people, and he impacted them all in different ways.”
Del was a founding member and the first chairman of Friends of Dagenham Park, an organisation dedicated to the protection of the parkland.
Former councillor Chris Purnell felt Del had been an exceptional mayor, and people left his meetings with a “real sense of purpose and achievement.”
“He was probably the best mayor I ever served under,” Chris said.
“He was absolutely outstanding, especially considering all the balls he was juggling.
“He was also a working-class intellectual, and had a deep scientific knowledge of insects.”
Hornchurch-based Chris added: “Del was also man of principle- he knew leaving the Labour Party would mean an end to his political career, but he did it anyway.”
Another former colleague, Mike Davis, also praised Del's commitment to his beliefs.
He said: “I’ll always remember Del’s strength and sense of purpose.”
The men had both served as councillors for around 20 years, and were close friends who visited one another frequently.
“He was a wonderful person,” Mike recalled.
His wife Jan, who also served as a councillor, added: “He was very committed to his ideals of environmentalism and socialism.”
After Del and Gaynor moved to Aberdeenshire, their Romford friends would regularly come and visit them, often several times a year.
Jan added: “He was very into self-sufficiency, and had always been into green issues, so he thrived in Scotland.
"He wanted to make the world a better place."
Del lived a long and fulfilling life, making his mark on Havering’s political and ecological landscapes.
“He loved wood, he loved nature, and he loved his local area,” added Keir.