COLLEAGUES have paid tribute to a former headteacher who led the governor support service for schools in County Durham.

Harry Wills, aged 59, from Barnard Castle, died during a New Year skiing holiday to Austria.

He had devoted his working life to education, starting in the classroom at Sacriston Junior School in September 1965, before moving to Belmont CE Junior School two years later. He then worked at as deputy headteacher at Pittington Junior School from 1974 to 1977.

He later worked as headteacher at Consett Grove Junior Mixed and Infant School, Aycliffe Village Primary School and Sugar Hill Primary School, Newton Aycliffe, before accepting secondment as governor training co-ordinator and holding the post full time from 1992 to 1996 with just a secretary for support.

In 1996, he was appointed senior schools officer in the county's School and Governor Support Service, and in January 1999 he was promoted to head the service.

He built the unit into a nationally recognised service, working tirelessly to help not only governors and schools in Durham, but throughout the country. He was recognised as an expert on governance and was an influential figure both regionally and nationally.

Durham County Council's director of education, Keith Mitchell, said Mr Wills worked ceaselessly to ensure the highest standards possible and was proud when the service became the first in the country to achieve the BS EN ISO 9002 accreditation.

Mr Mitchell said: "Harry was a terrific colleague and absolute gentleman. He was a man who valued relationships and loved working with people. His personal warmth, professionalism and commitment were reciprocated by all who had the privilege of working with him. All of us in the LEA will miss his friendship, his qualities and expertise and the sheer enjoyment of a person who was always reliable and supportive."

Mr Wills' family said in a statement: "Despite a heavy workload, Harry always remained cheerful and devoted to his family."

A funeral service will be held on Friday, at 1.30pm, in Barnard Castle Methodist Church.