Family and colleagues have paid a touching tribute to Darlington’s first black mayor who died last weekend.

Former Darlington Mayor and councillor for the ward of Firthmoor, Roderick Critchlow, died on Saturday (February 10).

Mr Critchlow, also known as Roderick Francis, served the council for 32 years – and has been hailed as “witty” and “wonderful” by former colleague and current Darlington council leader Stephen Harker.

Mr Critchlow originally came to the UK from Trinidad at 17, arriving in London after a short stint in Paris.

The Northern Echo: Family and colleagues have paid a touching tribute to Darlington’s first black mayor, Roderick

He landed in Darlington in unlikely circumstances after leaving his train for Glasgow to get a coffee and subsequently being left behind.

Kizzy Railton, 42, his granddaughter, paid a touching tribute to Mr Critchlow, praising his positivity and resolve in the face of adversity.

She said: “He was very true to the people of Firthmoor, he stayed there, he was very loyal, he never moved off the estate.

“Even though he could have gone elsewhere, he stayed there. He wanted to be at the heart of the community and support the people.

The Northern Echo: Roderick Critchlow with granddaughter Kizzy Railton and his great granddaughter

“I’d go to him, because I lost my dad quite young, [he’d say] ‘Kizzy, there’s no point worrying about things, tomorrow’s never given, concentrate on today.

“Everything was funny, he used to like winding people up, to get a laugh out of people. There wasn’t just a serious side to him, he was very funny as well.

“He was steadfast, he was always there for you no matter what.

Mr Critchlow returned to the town after it left an impression on him and met his wife, Marjorie, at the YMCA in Park Street – one of his first stops on his initial Darlington excursion.

Ms Railton said her grandfather had been hit by a US army truck while in Trinidad and miraculously recovered after a year in hospital.

The Northern Echo: Roderick Critchlow with granddaughter Kizzy Railton

Mr Critchlow immersed himself in community affairs, becoming a governor, chairman, magistrate and councillor.

Council leader Steve Harker said: "Roddy Francis was a dedicated public servant, who was a councillor for Eastbourne ward for 32 years. He was first elected in 1987 and stood down in 2019.

"I will remember him as a wonderful colleague, with a warm personality and a witty sense of humour. He was a real champion for his ward, even after his retirement from the council. He will be very sadly missed."

Ms Railton added her father overcame much adversity in his life, even from within their own family due to his father-in-law opposition to Mr Critchlow’s relationship with his daughter based on his race.

She added he and Marjorie enjoyed a successful marriage and were very devoted to each other.

Former editor of The Northern Echo, Peter Barron, recalled his time spent with Mr Critchlow – hailing the former mayor as a “gem of a man.”

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He said: “If Roddy Francis hadn’t got off that train for a cup of coffee 68 years ago, Darlington would have missed out on a gem of a man.

“Selfless, caring, humble, and enormously respected at the grass roots, we were lucky that he found us by accident.

“Rest in peace, Roddy – and thanks for getting off the train.”

You can read his full tribute here.