TONY BLAIR and Sir John Hall are among those paying tribute to Lord Foster, the former MP for Bishop Auckland who died on Saturday aged 81.

The former Prime Minister said: “Derek was a great colleague and friend who I came to know well in Parliament and through our representing neighbouring constituencies. He was an unstinting and passionate advocate for his constituents and the wider region.

“He served with distinction as Labour’s Chief Whip during the period of the party’s modernisation, as a Shadow Minister and, throughout his time in Parliament, commanded the respect and affection of his colleagues. My deepest condolences go to Anne and the family.”

Sir John, the former owner of Newcastle United FC who got to know Lord Foster more than 30 years ago when he began developing Wynyard Hall, said: “He was a great friend and a wonderful man.

“We were of opposite political persuasions, and football persuasions, but that didn’t stop us having great discussions. He was very understanding – he would always listen to your views,

“The region has lost someone who worked very hard for everyone. He was a man of the region and a man of the people.”

Lord Foster, the son of a shipyard fitter, was born in Sunderland in 1937 and proudly followed the Black Cats. He was a member of the Salvation Army, from which he gained his love of brass band music – he was a cornet player – and he was a lifelong teetotaller.

From Sunderland’s Bede grammar school he won a place at Oxford University, graduating with a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1960.

He worked for ten years in the motor industry, before looking for something “I could sell my soul to”. He found it in youth work with Durham County Council, and rose to become assistant director of education at Sunderland council.

In 1972, he married Anne, a fellow Sunderland Salvationist and a religious education teacher until she became his secretary.

In 1976, Lord Foster was selected to succeed Jim Boydell when he stepped down after 20 years as Bishop Auckland MP. Lord Foster was first elected to Parliament in 1979 with a 6,000 majority which rose to 21,000 in 1997.

His first step up was in 1983 when Labour leader Neil Kinnock made him his Parliamentary Private Secretary, and two years later, he became Labour’s Chief Whip. He was intimately involved in Mr Kinnock’s modernisation of the party.

In Bishop Auckland, he was extremely interested in education and job creation, and fought against the closure of the Shildon wagonworks with his newly-elected neighbour, Mr Blair.

But when Mr Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, it was a surprise that Lord Foster didn’t get a Cabinet post, and he stepped down from his role as a minister of state after only two days.

He retired as an MP in 2005, when he became a lord, and he remained deeply involved across the region, from being a trustee at the Bowes Museum to being patron of the Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

He was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and died in Sunderland hospital on Saturday. Jeremy Corbyn and current Chief Whip Nick Brown led the tributes, as the Echo reported on Sunday, and Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman said the two great monuments to his work were the Locomotion museum in Shildon and NetPark at Sedgefield.

Corbyn leads tributes to Derek Foster

County Councillor Rob Yorke, who had known Lord Foster since he joined the party 25 years ago, said: “Derek was a dear friend, colleague and, most importantly to me, mentor.

“I can’t begin to quantify the contribution he made to our region, not to mention the numerous charities and organisations he was actively involved in.

“His passion was education and employment. He was the founding father of all local enterprise agencies in south Durham. He was well aware of the changing economy and the need to develop new strategies and create more small businesses.

“At the end of our conversations, he would always say to me “well Rob, keep on keeping on”. As we remember his wonderful legacy, I know he would want us to keep on keeping on.”

Details of the funeral will be announced shortly.