TRIBUTES have been paid to a former prison officer who has played a key role in the regeneration of a County Durham town over the past two decades.

Geoff Mowbray, who was elected in May to be one Crook’s three representatives at Durham County Council, died this morning (Aug 20) after a long illness.

The 71-year-old Labour member from Crook previously represented the town on Wear Valley District Council and was chairman of the regeneration committee for many years.

West Auckland county councillor Rob Yorke worked with Councillor Mowbray on both authorities and the South Durham Enterprise Agency.

Coun Yorke said: “He is a big loss both for me personally and for the county council.

“We have lost a giant of a man who was a strong voice for the area.

“He has more than played his part in the history of our area, there are housing and business developments that would never have happened without Geoff.

“It is just a shame he did not have more time on the county council because he was already proving to be a key councillor.”

Current Crook County Councillor Eddie Murphy knew Coun Mowbray from their days together on the district council.

Coun Murphy said: “Like me he was a people’s man and was deeply involved in helping Wear Valley.

“If he had something to say he would say it, and he was he was a straight talker, that’s what I really liked about him.”

Although they were opponents in the council chamber, former Crook councillor John Bailey said he would have only fond memories of Coun Mowbray.

He said: “Crook has lost a nice chap who always had the time to help or say hello, my thoughts are with his wife and family.”

Recalling arguments in the council chamber, former councillor Patricia Jopling said: “Geoff was cohesive, not divisive, and when all the other councillors were spouting off he was the one that brought a bit of sanity to it all.”

Coun Mowbray, who was born and raised in Pontefract in West Yorkshire, leaves behind his wife of 31 years Doreen, three children, a step-son and six grandchildren.

He worked as a prison guard in Wakefield for 20 years before transferring to Frankland Prison in Durham where he spent another 10 years before retiring.

Mrs Mowbray said: “He was a large character, very generous and very highly thought of.”

North West Durham MP Pat Glass said: “Geoff excelled as the constituency chairman when I was selected by the party to stand as MP in 2010, before moving on to his current role of vice chairman.

“I have lost a good friend and supporter.”

Coun Mowbray’s funeral will be held at St Catherine’s Church in Crook at 11.45am on Wednesday, August 28.