IN the week that the judging took place for this year's Local Heroes Awards, it's so sad to hear about the passing of the wonderful Wilf Gilbert, one of the stars of last year's event.

Wilf, Honorary President of Darlington Table Tennis Academy, has finally succumbed to cancer after a brave fight, during which he continued to put his love of table tennis first.

I was lucky to meet Wilf last year, a month away from his 86th birthday, when I went to the academy to present a much-deserved cheque on behalf of Darlington Building Society.

He went on to be nominated for The Northern Echo's Local Heroes Awards and won the coveted Unsung Hero category. I had the privilege of playing a "demonstration match" against him during the awards and, needless to say, he gave me a sound thrashing.

Wilf was suffering from a rare form of cancer and knew his time was limited but that didn't stop him doing what he loved most – playing table tennis.

Coaching the youngsters, putting the tables out for sessions, and helping out in any way he could, Wilf was the heart of the academy.

After he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the Darlington table tennis leagues honoured him by staging a new competition for over-40s in aid of cancer research, with the Wilf Gilbert Trophy put up as the glittering prize by Wilf himself. Not only did Wilf insist on paying for it, but he ended up beating all-comers and winning his own trophy!

Wilf, who had declined chemotherapy and been warned he may have two years left to live, told me at the time: “I just want to put something back, and leave something behind, so buying the trophy seemed like a nice thing to do.

“I know I might not have long but no-one ever knows what’s around the corner, do they? You could go under a bus any day and I’ve been lucky to have a really good life.”

A statement from Darlington table tennis academy said: "Words can’t express enough what a wonderful person he was who dedicated his time and energy in supporting the Academy. He was great character, a true gentleman and let’s not forget a great table tennis player and will be sadly missed by us all."

Rest in peace, Wilf - you were a true local hero.