TRIBUTES were paid today to a “shining star” whose contribution to North-East life was described as “immense”.

Our Lady Immaculate and St Cuthbert’s Church in Crook was packed to overflowing as mourners – including the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon – paid their respects to Roger Kelly OBE.

The congregation heard how Mr Kelly, who died aged 65 after a sudden illness, served Gateshead Council for more than 20 years, rising to chief executive. He managed several key projects, including the Angel of the North, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, The Sage, and the Millennium Bridge.

He later became the driving force behind the rebirth of Ushaw College as a cultural centre and visitor attraction.

Ushaw’s President, Monsignor John Marsland, said: “It feels like a mighty black hole has opened up with Roger gone from our midst. It’s like the fall of a star, a gap in the universe, but he was more like a constellation than a star because he shone in so many areas of life.”

Msgr Marsland said Mr Kelly had been “a musical star”, with his talent becoming evident as a child, and he learned to play the organ at Durham Cathedral.

While studying law at Liverpool University, he set up his first choir and went on to form his beloved Crook and Weardale Choral Society, which he conducted for many years.

Performances by the choir were instrumental in the relaunch of Ushaw, and members sang hymns at today’s funeral service.

Msgr Marsland said: “Roger will now be conducting a celestial choir of angels in heaven, making sure they all hit the right notes.”

He added that Mr Kelly had also been “a civic star” and was rightly proud of all he had achieved at Gateshead Council. He was awarded the OBE for services to local government in 2013 and was also made a Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham.

When he retired, he found an outlet for his passion by becoming “a star at Ushaw”. He became volunteer Director of Development, quickly producing a “breathtakingly ambitious” programme of events and inspiring staff, volunteers and musicians.

Msgr Marsland said Mr Kelly had also been “a family star”. He and his wife Janette had three daughters - Emma, Vanessa and Charlotte – and he always encouraged them to follow their dreams. He was also a grandfather-of-two.

Finally, Msgr Marsland, described Mr Kelly as “a faith star” – a Catholic and committed Christian who continued to play the church organ in Crook even after he became ill.

“Roger has left an immense legacy in what he achieved and also in the hearts of all those he came into contact with,” said Msgr Marsland.

“He was a rare entity who could light up a room with his smile and will be hugely missed. He is a star that is still shining – a constellation, still indestructible, still inspiring.”