East Lothian councillors pay tribute to Willie Innes as ‘great man’ who ‘always put people first’

Devastated colleagues of East Lothian Council leader Willie Innes paid tribute to his memory as they met for the first time since news of his death on Sunday was announced.

By Reporter
Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 7:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 7:30 pm
Councillor Innes passed away at the age of 70 following a long battle with cancer.
Councillor Innes passed away at the age of 70 following a long battle with cancer.

Councillor Innes passed away at the age of 70 following a long battle with cancer.

Many fellow councillors were still reeling from the loss as the virtual council meeting was held this morning.

Normal business was suspended and a minute’s silence was led by a sombre East Lothian Provost John McMillan who then invited councillors to pay their personal tributes to Mr Innes.

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And many spoke of the Prestonpans Labour councillor, who served his town and the county for more than 30 years, as a devoted family man who always put people first in everything he did.

Mr Innes, who was born in Zambia in 1951, lived in Prestonpans with his wife Janis.

They raised their children Gillian, Craig and Nathan in the town and were grandparents to Hanna and Isla.

He stepped down from his leadership role temporarily in 2017 after being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment.

However he returned to the helm within a year and took part in a planning committee meeting just two weeks before his death.

News of his death brought tributes across the political spectrum for Mr Innes, who was council leader from 2012.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, MSP said: “Willie Innes was a committed public servant, dedicated to improving lives in East Lothian.

“He is a great loss to his community and to our party. My thoughts are with his wife, children and friends.”

And Owen Thompson, SNP MP from Midlothian, said: “As council leader I worked with Willie on a number of projects, including the early stages of the South East Scotland City deal. A great champion for his community who will be a hard act to follow.”

At this morning’s meeting of councillors tributes continued as those who knew him best shared personal memories.

Councillor McMillan said Mr Innes had been his role model saying: “He, more than anyone, understood his role and what was expected of him and he delivered.

“He worked for all of us. He has been taken from us far too soon.”

Councillor Norman Hampshire, depute council leader, said Mr Innes had been a personal friend as well as a leader.

He said: “Willie was a proud Labour man who was committed to making life better for everyone. He always put the interests of the people of East Lothian first.”

Councillor Hampshire paid tribute to his work in introducing a sports development strategy in the county despite being told by Sport Scotland that East Lothian was ‘too small’ for it to work.

He pointed out how “now we see quality sports development across East Lothian today.”

His passion for sports development in the county was also hailed by SNP group leader Councillor Stuart Currie who said: “I remember WIllie talking about someone called Josh Taylor who was up and coming in boxing.”

Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, a former East Lothian MP, described Mr Innes as a giant of man saying: “If the measure of a man was in his height Willie was a 20ft giant. He was a great man.”

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