Tributes have been paid to a “generous” and “hugely charismatic” former lord mayor of Newcastle.
Geoff O’Brien, a well-known Labour councillor who served for more than a quarter of a century, died last week at the age of 71 after a short battle with duodenal cancer. He spent 26 years representing residents in the wards of Moorside and Westgate until 2018, and was proud to be elevated to the post of lord mayor in 2011/12.
The former Northumbria University lecturer is survived by his partner Anita and his four daughters, Kate, Colleen, Bonny, and Roisin. Nick Forbes, the city council’s ex-leader, said his former ward colleague had exemplified the “warm Geordie welcome” that Newcastle is famous for.
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Geoff’s daughter Kate told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that her dad was particularly proud of his work on the New Deal for Communities programme and the opening of the Beacon enterprise centre on Westgate Road. She added: “He was so personable and always had time for anyone, no matter what he was doing. You heard that from his students as well, no matter what he would always find the time – he was very, very generous.
“Once he has us four girls, that was his life’s crowning achievement. He never talked about himself, he only ever wanted to ask about us. He was really selfless.”
Geoff, whose parents were pub landlords, had travelled the world as an engineer on an oil ship earlier in his career. He then returned to his native Tyneside and became an academic specialising in climate change and disaster management.
His funeral will be held next Wednesday, December 6, at 1.30pm at the West Road Crematorium.
Mr Forbes said: “It was a privilege to work alongside Geoff for 16 years as a ward councillor, in Moorside and then, after the 2004 boundary review, a new ward called Westgate. This took in the whole of the city centre, and Geoff was fond of pointing out where he was born, just off the Bigg Market.
“Born a thoroughbred Geordie, he was never parochial; he travelled the world, and developed an academic career as an expert in environmental protection. He brought this passion into his political roles, and would liven any debate or public meeting with both great depth of knowledge and enormous humour.
“Always independent-minded, he was a hugely charismatic lord mayor of Newcastle. He chaired council meetings without fear or favour, unafraid to cut anyone off if they went over time or started repeating themselves. He loved meeting people and welcoming visiting dignitaries to the city, exemplifying the warm Geordie welcome for which Newcastle is renowned.
“The centre of Geoff’s life, however, were his four daughters – on whom he absolutely doted. He was always full of stories about how they had made him such a proud dad; I would often drop him off after ward or campaign meetings and the warmth and affection between them was palpable.
“I know they will be hurting very badly at his passing, and want to pass on my deepest sympathy to all of them, plus his partner, at this very sad time. Thank you, Geoff, for your life of love and service to our city.”
Prof John Woodward, Northumbria University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Engineering and Environment, said Geoff would be “particularly remembered for his commitment to the field of sustainable development in both the Global North and the Global South”. He added: “Drawing on both his academic and engineering background, Geoff’s expertise and scholarly papers contributed to building sustainable problem-solving approaches, and to the transformation of the UK emergency preparedness and response sector.”
Coun Veronica Dunn, the city’s current lord mayor said that Geoff, who was made an honorary alderman of the city in 2019, had “made a valuable contribution to the city through his public service and he will be fondly remembered by those who knew him and worked alongside him”.
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