Tributes paid to Fred Leah, the longest-serving Beccles town clerk

The family of a much-loved former Beccles town clerk have today paid tribute to the man they described as 'always laughing, joking and smiling'.

Fredrick Leah, who died last Tuesday aged 91, was a well-known community stalwart in Beccles whose passions included cricket and music.

His daughter-in-law, Karen Leah, said: 'He was a familiar sight in Beccles on his buggy. He was always laughing, joking and smiling with the people in the town.'

Mr Leah, known as Fred by many, was born in 1920 in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, and was one of six children.

In 1940 he was called up for National Service in the Royal North Lancashire Regiment but it was his transfer to the Manchester Regiment which brought him to Beccles where he was posted.

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He met his wife Gwenda in October 1943. They married the following April and have two sons, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

In 1946 he made a return to the town clerk's department of Burnley County Borough Council and was almost immediately promoted to committee clerk. He remained in this position until 1949 when he was appointed deputy town clerk of Radcliffe.

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In 1955 he took up his final appointment of town clerk of Beccles and during his tenure he was a catalyst for many improvement schemes.

His son Humphrey Leah said: 'One of his proudest moments was the completion of the Beccles swimming pool in 1959 against severe opposition from the government.'

Fred also assisted in the complete overhaul of the water department before it was taken over by Lowestoft Water Company; the new sewage disposal works at Worlingham; the sports ground and pavilion at Common Lane; the indoor bowls hall; Beccles street lighting and, along with Ted Cranmer, founded the Waveney Centre.

Gwenda added: 'Fred always considered himself a man of the people and often advised members of the public contrary to the interests of the council. He would see people at any time when free and if necessary visit them at their homes. He completely reorganised the committee system of the council and with his long previous experience was able to bring a fresh mind to the running of the town.'

Fred was the longest-serving town clerk of Beccles, serving from 1955 to 1988 with only a short break, and on his final retirement the council presented him with an illuminated citation as 'A Truly Distinguished Citizen of Beccles'. Subsequently a solid silver medal was struck and presented to him.

Fred played a prominent part in the affairs of several local organisations. He joined the Beccles Rotary Club in 1956 in its early years and was president in 1967/8. He spent 47 years as a full member. In 2004 he was made a Paul Harris Fellow, the highest honour in Rotary.

For a period in the 1960s he was chairman of the eastern branch of the Society of Town Clerks.

He also played the organ and piano for many local functions and churches, in particular the Rotary Annual Charity Show and he was entirely self-taught.

Fred died on Tuesday, August 23 at the James Paget Hospital, Gorleston.

- There will be a service to celebrate his life at the United Reformed Church, on Hungate, in Beccles, next Friday, September 9, at 2pm.


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