John Gardner, a long-serving councillor on Stevenage Borough Council, died last month at the age of 88.

Described as somebody who "exuded integrity, honesty, and selflessness" throughout his life, John was a councillor for Roebuck between 1998 and 2023.

A proud democratic socialist, he supported the regeneration of Stevenage town centre and the declaration of a climate emergency during his time on the council.

John Gardner was born in Ealing on May 17, 1935, to two Scottish parents - Hildegard Williams and John Shaw Gardner - who had recently returned from Canada.

In his early years, they moved between Dunstable, Northampton, Kettering and Corby, with John's elder brother, Llew.

But tragedy struck the family in 1940, when John returned from school in Kettering to find his mother on the floor. She had died from a brain haemorrhage, aged only 40.

John was then brought-up between his dad, who remarried, in Corby, and his four elder half-sisters (Catherine, Mary, Margery and Chrstine) in Queen's Park, London.

Even during the Second World War, when most children were evacuated, he spent much time in London.

After attending Rockingham Road Infants and Corby Old Village Primary School, John failed his 11+ and later moved onto Corby Technical College.

In 1948, he was struck down by paratyphoid and became one of the first NHS patients, listening to the London Olympics on the radio.

Aged 15, and already in the army cadets, John went to the Army Apprentice College in Chepstow for three years, before joining the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1953.

A number of postings followed, and it was during his time in Chester that he met Sheila Thompson, who was in the QAs - the nursing branch of the Army Medical Services.

John and Sheila married on January 7, 1956, and he was posted to RAF Henlow where he helped develop anti-aircraft gun computers.

Despite being in the army, he joined a mass demonstration in Trafalgar Square against the UK-French occupation of the Suez Canal - one of the most significant moments in Britain's twentieth century foreign policy.

In October 1957, he arrived in Australia as part of a unit sent to test air-to-air missiles. Based in Adelaide, he travelled to the desert launch site in Woomera, and, in his time off, spoke in public meetings against the racist "White Australia" immigration policy.

John and Sheila welcomed their first son, David, in January 1960, and returned to Britain in 1961 on discharge from the army.

It was at this time that they first moved to Stevenage, with John working for English Electric in Luton.

It was short-lived, however, with the ensuing years seeing the birth of a second son, Neil, and time spent in Australia, Stevenage again, and then Llanfaelog, Anglesey.

It was 1967 before John settled permanently in the south east of England, moving to Luton and working at BAC Stevenage on missile-testing. He bought a house in Stopsley, where he would remain for 18 years.

READ MORE: Tributes to former Stevenage councillor John Gardner

While continuing to work at BAC (which became BAe), John decided to join the Luton Debating Society and the Labour party shortly after Edward Heath's Conservative government came to power in 1970.

In time, he became chair of Luton East Constituency Labour Party, Luton District Labour Party and active in Bedfordshire County Labour Party, serving on the Eastern Regional Executive organising conferences, attending demonstrations, and making a difference locally.

At the 1979 general election, won by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party, he unsuccessfully contested the South Bedfordshire constituency for Labour. 

In the following decade, he became more active in the Luton community, chairing the Luton Community Relations Council and as a governor at the celebrated Luton Sixth Form College.

The Comet: John Gardner contested the South Bedfordshire constituency for the Labour party in 1979.John Gardner contested the South Bedfordshire constituency for the Labour party in 1979. (Image: Stevenage Borough Council)

Holidays were normally spent in Scotland, climbing the munroes in the Highlands from the Cairngorms to the Cuillins. He was also an avid Luton Town FC supporter, following the club from the Third to the First Division with David and his friend Bob.

John became a Director of BAe Dynamics, and married Michelle Gardner on February 23, 1991, while working for BAe in Washington DC and living in Fairfax, Virginia. During his regular trips home, he enjoyed visiting his grandchildren in Bristol.

Retiring after that posting, he returned to Stevenage and decided to serve the town, being elected for Roebuck in 1998.

As deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for the environment, he supported the regeneration of Stevenage town centre, fought for new housing land in the county plan, and led the declaration of a climate emergency.

He also served on school governing bodies, and chaired Hertfordshire County Labour Party.

Away from his political and community involvement, he enjoyed animals and photography, and loved visiting the Serengeti with his daughter, Natalie.

He maintained what his son describes as "an infectious personality that excuded, integrity, honesty and selflessness".

A proud democratic socialist, he was often to be seen - and heard - in Stevenage town centre with a megaphone, asking shoppers to vote or sign a petition.

After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, he continued to serve and live life as fully as possible. During his last couple of weeks, he was cared for at home by Michelle, and surrounded by family - both physically and virtually - to celebrate his 88th birthday.

He died a week later, at 3.21am on May 24, 2023.