The election of a new Mayor is an important and celebrated time for Ashbourne Town Council and a great honour for the chosen councillor. This year, Gareth Butterfield discovers, it was also an opportunity to reflect on the life of one of the town's truly great councillors.
WHEN Sandra Spencer accepted the chains of office last week to become the town's new Mayor, she should have been following in the footsteps of a remarkable town councillor – her mother, Marion Abbott.
Councillor Abbott was in line to become the town's Mayor in 1992, but she lost her fight with cancer months before she could be voted in.
As Councillor Spencer was welcomed in to the top role at Ashbourne Town Council, her fellow members agreed that Mrs Abbott would be proud of her daughter.
Ian Bates, who served alongside Mrs Abbott and stepped in to take on the role of Mayor when she passed away, said she was a loyal and hard-working councillor.
He said: "She was absolutely brilliant and was Ashbourne mad. She would have done anything for the town.
"She was an Ashbourne person through and through.
"Marion would have been a very good Mayor because, when she set her heart on something, she did it and she did it well. She wouldn't stand for any nonsense."
Mrs Abbott was a keen sportswoman, a Derby County fan and, more than anything, a keen Shrovetider.
She played for the town in ladies' football as a goalkeeper and was one of few women who, each Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, got stuck in with her fellow Down'ards and played the game.
She worked alongside her husband, the late Bill Abbott, in running the family taxi firm from The Green Road and immersed herself in the life of Ashbourne.
She was a founder member of the Help Improve the Town Society, carrying out many projects including planting hundreds of spring bulbs around Ashbourne.
She also worked with young offenders in the town to oversee community service work and volunteered with amateur dramatic productions.
Mrs Spencer said her mother would have ruled the council with a "rod of iron".
She said: "There's no way I could ever hope to fill her shoes on the council, she was just too great a lady. All I can hope to do is to do my best and hope she'd have been proud of how I did it."
Mrs Abbott's death in January of the year she was due to take up the role of Mayor, echoes what happened some two decades later when, in January 2013, Deputy Mayor Alan Hodkinson died suddenly at the start of the year he was to take on the role.
Mrs Abbott was succeeded by her deputy, Mr Bates, while Mr Hodkinson was succeeded by his deputy, Steve Bull, both of whom had served as Mayor twice before.
Nominating Mrs Spencer at a council meeting last week, Denise Brown said Mrs Abbott, who had a room named after her at the town hall, would be proud of her daughter's nomination.
She said: "Councillor Spencer is a loyal, genuine, supportive and quiet, dignified person.
"She gets on with things without seeking centre stage. Her main objective is to do a good job and she doesn't mind being behind the scenes – very much like a steel lintel, you can't see it but things would fall down without it."
Thanking the members for nominating and electing her as Mayor, she said: "I said last year, when I was elected as Deputy Mayor, it was a great honour to follow in the footsteps of councillors such as Steve Bull, Denise Brown, Ian Bates, Caroline Cooper, Tom Donnelly and, of course the late Alan Hodkinson.
"To go on to be chosen as Mayor is an even greater honour and I know that to fill my predecessor's shoes will be a difficult task, but I will endeavour to do my very best in my own way to promote not only this council, but our town during this next year."
She presented outgoing Mayor and Mayoress Steve and Sue Bull with a photograph of their three golden retriever dogs as a thank-you for the support they had given her during her year as deputy.
Councillor Jon Barrs becomes Deputy Mayor. Mrs Spencer, of The Green Road, will be joined by husband, Martin, as her consort.