TRIBUTES from all shades of the political spectrum have followed the death at the age of 75 of Morris Barton, who held the record as the longest serving leader of any council in the country.

Cllr Barton, from Rosetta Drive, East Cowes, was in his latter years a member of East Cowes Town Council and vice-president of the Isle of Wight Liberal Association.

In increasing ill-health in recent times he had, in semi-retirement, been a business consultant.

Immensely proud of his Island family roots which went very deep, Cllr Barton was born and educated on the Island.

The Barton 'Bonehead’ — as pupils of that Newport school were called — joined the County Press as a 15-year-old apprentice compositor and retired after 40 years’ service.

Alan Marriott, County Press editor, said: "I knew Morris as a passionate politician who always had the good of the Island at heart.

"We had lively debates about politics (and cricket) across the County Press newsroom when he worked here.

"I will always remember him as one of the good guys. He will be remembered fondly by his former colleagues at the CP."

But it was his service to local government for which he was best known, not least being leader of the county council and then the unitary Isle of Wight Council, an amalgam he piloted through.

It was in 1995 he was honoured with an OBE and three years later in a shock move stood down from the council he had led from 1984.

He served on the old Newport Borough Council, which he chaired, Medina Borough and a legion of other organisations throughout the decades.

He never became a parliamentary candidate and criticised the local party for its "death wish" in selecting those from the mainland to stand at general elections.

In increasing ill-health in recent months Cllr Barton died at his home with his family, including wife Marcia at his bedside.

Cllr Dave Stewart, leader of the Isle of Wight Council, said: "I am aware that Morris had been a previous leader of the council for many years and his reputation reached well beyond the Isle of Wight Council.
& amp;lt;div>
"Following his long tenure as council leader he continued to be a source of guidance and support to many others working in public life.

"I personally found his views and advice informative and thought provoking and I wish to acknowledge his contribution to the Island."

Leader of the Island Independent Group, Cllr Julia Baker-Smith, said: "On behalf of Island Independent Councillors I send our sincerest condolences to Cllr Barton's family.

"Morris was an exceptional politician and advocate for the Isle of Wight. He will be greatly missed.

"On a personal note, I have known Morris since I was a child and he inspired me to become a councillor. I am forever grateful to him for his support and mentorship and am so very sad to have lost a friend."

Labour councillor Geoff Lumley, who always enjoyed a joust with Morris over his former membership of the Labour party, said: "All other Isle of Wight Council leaders are measured against him and all fail.

"I only wish I had succeeded in persuading him to return to his political roots, but it wasn't for the want of trying.

"We were never councillors together, but he always had a supportive word for me after I was elected." 

Nicholas Belfitt, chairman of the Isle of Wight Liberal Democrats, said: "The Isle of Wight Liberal Democrats would like to send our condolences to the family of Morris Barton and are most saddened by the news.

"We would like to thank Morris for his many years of hard work as councilor and member of the party — he will be remembered fondly for his support, commitment and work he accomplished."

Charles Chapman, chairman of the Isle of Wight Council, said Cllr Barton was both a friend and valued work colleague during his time with the authority.

"The Island has lost a great advocate and supporter who took us from the Isle of Wight County Council to a unitary authority — no mean feat as this was the pilot. His wisdom and knowledge will be sadly missed," he said.

"My sincere condolences are with his family today, a thought I know will be echoed by all those that worked with him at County Hall over the years."

Island MP Andrew Turner said: "Many people do not realise that there is a great deal that unites those of us in the political world — even when we do not share political views.

"He and I agreed on some things, and not on others, but he was unfailingly friendly to political friends and foes alike. He loved the Island with a passion and was always ready to give a word of advice or share his view of a situation."

See the County Press on Friday, January 27 for a full obituary.