RODDY Francis – the first black Mayor of Darlington – was a shy, gentle, unassuming man and I’m so sad to hear about his passing at the age of 87.

Before he became ill, I often met Roddy at the gym at the Dolphin Centre and we had some good old chats. Over one of them, he told me his fascinating life story, and I couldn’t resist writing about it in The Northern Echo…

As a young man in search of a new life, Roddy – also known as Roderick Critchlow – had left his home in Trinidad in 1956.

The Northern Echo:

He’d read about Scotland, thought it sounded nice, so decided to jump on a train bound for Glasgow, without having an idea about what he’d do once he got there.

The train stopped at Darlington station to unload the mail so, expecting a delay, Roddy got off to buy a cup of coffee.

“When I turned round, the train had gone without me, so I thought I might as well wander into town,” he told me. “It looked a nice, friendly place, so I decided to stay for a bit.”

In fact, Roddy stayed for good. He made Darlington his home, and what an impact he had on his adopted town. He immersed himself in the community, became chairman of Firth Moor Community Centre, worked as a school governor at the local primary school, presided as a magistrate, and served as a borough councillor for 23 years.

He made history as the town’s first black Mayor in 2003 and went on to be honoured as Citizen of the Year, though he wrongly felt he didn’t deserve the accolade.

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.