TRIBUTES have been paid to a leading North-East journalist and former assistant editor of The Northern Echo who died earlier today.

Tony Metcalf worked on The Northern Echo for 13 years. He started as the paper’s Aycliffe correspondent. By the time he left, he had reached the position of assistant editor.

Newton Aycliffe was Tony’s home patch. He was born there in 1963, but his family moved to Cramlington, in Northumberland, when he was a toddler.

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He was educated at Parkside Middle School, where he was head boy, and Cramlington High School.

A talented sportsman, as a teenager Tony was scouted by Sunderland FC when he played county-class schoolboy football for South Northumberland.

Tony, who was a lifelong Newcastle United fan, opted to continue his studies.

He was also an accomplished cricketer and rugby player. His PE teacher was Roger Uttley, who played 23 games for the England rugby team and was assistant coach to the victorious 1989 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.

Tony trained to be a journalist at Darlington College and landed a job working on The Driffield Times where his talent for spotting good stories soon brought him to the attention of The Scarborough Evening News, which was part of the same group.

Tony worked on The Evening News for a couple of years before moving back to the North-East in 1987 to join The Northern Echo.

As news editor he played a leading role in some of the paper’s biggest stories, including a campaign to remember psychiatric patients buried in unmarked graves which led to a ban on paupers’ burials throughout the NHS.

Tony left The Northern Echo in 2000 to work for Metro International, a Swedish media company. As the group’s international editor-in-chief he was responsible for setting up editions in countries across the globe, including Boston, Toronto, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Hong Kong and Seoul, as well as his beloved Newcastle.

He also had a spell in academia, as head of journalism, media and the arts at Darlington College, where he mentored a new generation of young reporters.

In 2004, he launched a newspaper in Dubai. The paper, 7Days, was hailed for pushing back the boundaries of reporting in the territory and helping to open the emirate up to greater scrutiny.

After four years as owner and editorial director of 7Days, Tony became editor-in-chief for Metro US overseeing the group’s Boston, Philadelphia and New York editions.

Peter Barron, editor of The Northern Echo, paid tribute to Tony. He said: “Tony was not only a fine, passionate journalist but a great character to have around. He brought infectious energy and fun to the newsroom, led from the front, and The Northern Echo was lucky to be one of the newspapers which benefited from his great qualities. He will be greatly missed.”

Tim Grant, principal of Darlington College, said: “Tony was a very influential journalist, who inspired a generation of young people to pursue careers in the media and made an enormous contribution to Darlington College.

“He will be missed by his friends and colleagues and our thoughts are with his family.”

Sue Calvert, a journalism lecturer at the college, added: “Tony had recently been into the college to talk to some of the journalism students and made an important contribution to students on the NCTJ course.

“His love of journalism and passion for teaching remained very strong.”

Tony, who was 50, died in St Teresa’s Hospice, Darlington, this morning.

He is survived by his mother, Brenda, brother, Graeme and his sister, Jillian, and leaves his wife, Lesley, and two children, Alex, 18, and Freya, 10.

His mother said: “Tony was a fantastic family man who doted on his children. Everything he did was for his family. He will be greatly missed by us all.”