Tributes have been paid to Councillor Tom Willis, the city’s Climate Ambassador, who has passed away at the age of 78. Cllr Willis, who was first elected as a City Councillor nearly 30 years ago, has been remembered by colleagues across the political divide as an exceptionally kind and thoughtful man with a deep lifelong passion for the environment.
Long career of service to Chelmsford
Councillor Willis first became a Chelmsford City Councillor in 1995, serving residents in Writtle and then later in the St Andrews ward. In recent years he moved to Galleywood Road and in 2019 was elected to represent the Goat Hall ward as a Liberal Democrat City Councillor right up until his death.
In previous administrations, Cllr Willis played a key role in arts and culture, serving as Chairman of the Arts Committee in the late 1990s, alongside membership of the Hylands House Sub-Committee and the Special Events Working Party.
He was elected as Mayor of Chelmsford in 2008, joining a list of councillors stretching right back to 1888 who have represented the district at local events. Like all the many roles he undertook, Cllr Willis is fondly remembered for carrying out his mayoral duties with enthusiasm and dedication.
A committed environmentalist and Climate Ambassador
It was Cllr Willis’ advocacy for the environment that characterised his later years in local politics. In 2020 he was appointed to be the city’s first Climate Ambassador, a role he relished which allowed him to make a difference in a policy area about which he cared deeply.
A keen gardener and ardent proponent of sustainability, Cllr Willis was the natural choice for a post specifically created to form links within the Chelmsford community to tackle the climate emergency. His regular column in the Essex Chronicle also allowed him to share his love of all things green, from tips on growing your own to giving pollinators a helping hand at home.
Councillor Stephen Robinson, Leader of Chelmsford City Council, says Cllr Willis was a much-loved party elder who was ahead of his time.
“Most of us want to make the world a better place but Tom was one of those rare individuals who spend a lifetime turning their ideas and hopes into action. His environmentalism wasn’t something lofty or remote – it was rooted in a deep sense of place, present in everything around him. Tackling climate change is a big topic, but Tom understood that what it all really comes down to is protecting the people, places and habitats you love through your everyday actions. He found wonder in the daily life he could see around him in the city, and he was the perfect choice as Climate Ambassador for Chelmsford.
Tom stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Liberals in Hitchin in the 1970s and his desire to make the world a better place led him to local public service here in Chelmsford for the best part of three decades. Our thoughts are with Cllr Willis’ family at this very sad time, and we will greatly miss his wisdom and friendship. But we also celebrate a life well lived and his passion for the world around us, which will continue to inspire us in the months and years to come.”Cllr Stephen Robinson, Leader, Chelmsford City Council
Pandemic charity efforts typically inspiring
Cllr Willis’ thoughtfulness and willingness to help others was admired throughout the city. A charity challenge to raise funds for the Mayor’s charities during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 was typical of his desire to make a difference to the community.
Galvanized by the famous fundraising efforts of Captain Tom, Cllr Willis created his very own version of a marathon, tailored to his own passion for the planet. Aged 76, he set himself the challenge of collecting 26 wheelbarrow loads of manure from a local stables and bringing it home on foot – a round trip of around a mile. He completed all 26 miles of his marathon, raised around £450 for charity and helped others in the process.
His fellow Goat Hall ward member, Cllr Linda Mascot, says Cllr Willis led by example.
“Tom was a diligent and caring advocate for his residents, supporting them with a large range of issues and particularly knowledgeable on planning matters. Although he had reached an age where many are starting to wind down, he selflessly raised money to support the Mayor’s charities through this challenge and in other ways by selling plants he had propagated from his beloved garden, which is where he spent much of his time when not working for his residents. My sincerest condolences to Tom’s family at this difficult time – he will be sorely missed by our community.”Cllr Linda Mascot, Goat Hall ward member for Chelmsford City Council
Accolades across the political spectrum
Cllr Willis made many friends within Chelmsford City Council over the years and tributes will be paid to him at this month’s Full Council from across the political spectrum.
Councillor Roy Whitehead, Leader of Chelmsford City Council’s Conservative Group remembers Cllr Willis as a gracious colleague.
“I have known Tom Willis off and on since I became a councillor. Although we belonged to different parties, we often spoke after meetings, and he was always a perfect gentleman. He was also a very kind-hearted Mayor of Chelmsford, interested in all those he met and an asset to the borough. His passing is a loss to the city, and we will be thinking of his family and friends who we know will miss him a great deal.”Cllr Roy Whitehead, Leader, Conservative Group
A successful career in further education
Outside of local politics Cllr Willis had a long and fulfilling career in further education, retiring from the post of Vice Principal at Basildon College in 1994 and working as a tutor for The Open University. He also served as a magistrate and was on the board of Chelmsford CVS, an independent organisation set up to champion and support local charities in the city.
Full Council will be streamed on the Chelmsford City Council YouTube page at 7pm on 22 February and you can watch the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUsSrZywYOE.
A recording will also be available to watch once the meeting ends.
If you would like to leave a tribute to Cllr Willis, the comments will be open on this page for you to do so.