A FORMER councillor known as "the voice of Thornton Heath" has died at the age of 92. Wally Garratt represented the area for 16 years and in 1994 became the first Mayor of Croydon to be elected under a Labour-run council. He moved to the borough in 1937 and lived for much of that time in Buller Road, Thornton Heath with his wife, Sylvia. He worked for most of his life as an insurance agent and was first elected to the council for Thornton Heath ward in 1986. Present Labour group leader, Tony Newman, paid tribute to Mr Garratt, saying: "He was a true community councillor and he really was the voice of Thornton Heath. "He was a committed campaigner whether he was helping pensioners or supporting people's housing rights." He added: "He was always there for people from his ward, young and old alike, whether at his official surgery or at his unofficial surgery in the Lord Napier pub. "Much-loved character is a bit of an over-used phrase but Wally was the real thing." During his time in opposition Mr Garratt served as Labour spokesman on highways and as a the party's chief whip. After his mayoral year he went on to become vice-chair and then chair of the social services committee, retiring from the council in 2002. Politics played a huge part in his life and he became vice-president of Croydon Trade Union Council and chair of Ruskin House, the Labour and trades union headquarters in Coombe Road, Croydon. He was also an active campaigner for the elderly, being closely involved with the work of Age Concern. Val Shawcross, former Croydon Council leader and now a London Assembly member, said: "Wally was one of the people in the Labour Party who made me feel that I was working for the right things with the right people. "He was enormously kind and generous to a young upstart like me and seemed to think that it was his duty to help me navigate my way around the many difficulties and dangers of political life." She added: "I always felt that he was a really grown up human being who couldn't be bothered to be petty. "If something or somebody got on his nerves he would apply his gruff good humour and give it a well deserved laughing off. "He was also a very practical politician much more interested in making life better for ordinary people in Croydon than seeing his own name or photo in print." Mike Fisher, leader of the Tory-controlled council, described Mr Garratt as "a larger than life character." Councillor Fisher said: "He had a real passion for his ward and knew it inside out. "He was a tough political opponent in the council chamber but outside he was affable and a real gentleman." Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
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