Tributes have been paid after Haverhill stalwart Les Ager passed away last week.
Les had twice been mayor of the town and remained on the town council, and his love of music meant had long been involved with the Haverhill Operatic Society, Haverhill Silver Band and the Centre Stage Company for decades.
In April he received a British Empire Medal (BEM) for his services to music in Haverhill.
He died in his sleep aged 75 last Wednesday/Thursday (October 23/24) following a fight with leukaemia.
Les, from Roman Way, leaves behind wife Jean, 75, son Mark, 51, and his son Kieran, 14, from Haverhill, and daughter Karen Chinery, 48, and her children Lauren, 19, and Adam, 17, from Great Yeldham.
Karen is now musical director of Haverhill and District Operatic Society while Mark is the musical director of Haverhill Silver Band.
“Everyone knew dad – he has been involved in so many groups and we’ve been involved in everything with him,” said Karen, who did play the tenor horn and whose son Adam is now a guitarist, playing for Centre Stage Company’s latest show ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’.
“Dad’s love and passion for music really spread through the family, and though he was never a great participator of sport did enjoy watching it.
“He was really Mr Haverhill – he was so passionate about Haverhill and would never let anyone put Haverhill down as he believed it was a good place.
“People just can’t believe he has gone and say he will leave a big hole as he was involved in so much. He was really proud to get his BEM and did want to hold a party to thank those who put the portfolio together once his health improved. He was always really positive and would always look on the bright side of things and always be encouraging us and always wanted to do what was right.”
Les had started treatment for his chronic lymphatic leukaemia in January, and though he looked to be recovering in April treatment was put back after a serious car crash on July 13, and though he was not badly injured Jean was hospitalised with leg injuries and only came out last Thursday (October 24).
Haverhill Town Councillors paid tribute to their former member by standing for a minute’s silence at the beginning on Tuesday’s (October 29) meeting.
Town mayor Roger André said: “Les’ contribution to the arts in Haverhill cannot be overstated.
“For many years he has been heavily involved with the award-winning Haverhill Silver Band, and was its conductor for 30 years.
“He was also a founder member of the Haverhill Operatic Society, and directed nearly 50 of its musicals.
“Earlier this year Les received the British Empire Medal from the Queen for his services to music in Haverhill.
“We stand alongside all those groups that Les supported in saluting his musical legacy to the town.”
“Les was elected to Haverhill Town Council in January 2006.
“He joined the Town Council as it emerged from a period of political turmoil, and helped bring a sense of stability and dignity to the Council Chamber.
“He sought re-election in May 2007 and was successful.
“He was also successful in being elected to represent Haverhill East Ward on St Edmundsbury Borough Council.
“Also in 2007 Les was elected Deputy Town Mayor of Haverhill.
“He was unexpectedly thrust to the fore when later that year, Town Mayor Ted Trebble died suddenly.
“Les found himself leading a newly elected Town Council, and was elected Town Mayor in February 2008, a role he occupied until May 2009.
“During that time he attended in excess of 200 Mayoral functions each year, as well as presiding over Town Council meetings.
“He also served as chair of the Town Council’s Arts and Leisure Committee.
“During Les’ mayoralty the Town Council continued to expand its range of services to the town and people of Haverhill.
“Under his stewardship the Town Council was awarded Quality Town Council status in 2009, and became one of the 60 largest town councils in England.
“As part of his mayoral term Les marked his 70th birthday in 2008 by combining his love of music and his commitment to the community in holding a free-to-attend brass concert for the town in the Market Square.
“After his mayoralty, Les continued to be an active Town Councillor, taking up issues on behalf of his constituents and frequently representing the council at events both inside and outside the local area.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with Les’ family at this time, and particularly with his wife Jean whom we understand has only just left hospital following treatment for injuries sustained in a road accident.
“The funeral arrangements have yet to be confirmed, but I am sure the town will turn out in force to remember and to celebrate the life of a man who has truly earned his status as a leading Haverhillian.”
Les had was involved Centre Stage Company since its first show, and the thespian group said in tribute:
“Les played Trumpet in our first show The Mikado in 1969.
“He played Lord Tolloller in the 1970 show Iolanthe and in 1971 he took over as musical director.
“He always joked ‘They did not like my playing, they did not like my singing, so that gave me a white stick’.
“Les work tirelessly for the society, musically directing two musicals a year for many years, together with being the main driver in our joint concerts with the Silver Band, our Christmas ‘Carols For All’ concert and our Last Night of the Proms concert in July.
“Les conducted Haverhill Silver Band as well during the early years of these concerts, so conducted band and choir during these performances.
“He worked on the committee for most of his time with the society, taking the officer role of chairman at least three times.
“At Christmas 2010, Les finally hung up his baton with the society at the Carols For All concert, where he was presented with a silver baton as a sign of appreciation for all his work.
“As a group we were very proud this year when Les was awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to the arts and the community of Haverhill, where he has been mayor twice.
“His work though carries on through the baton of his daughter Karen, who is currently musical director of Haverhill and District Operatic Society and Centre Stage Company.
“His son Mark is musical director of Haverhill Silver Band.
“Through all these years, Jean his wife has been a member and major contributor to the family of Centre Stage, being secretary and assistant secretary for many years.
“We send out love and condolences to Jean, Mark, and Karen and all the family at this very sad time.
“The society has dedicated the final shows in their current run at the arts centre of Return to the Forbidden Planet to the memory of Les.”
A Haverhill Silver Band statement read:
“Les first joined Haverhill Silver Band as a cornet player in 1953 before becoming its conductor and musical director in 1964, a post he held for 30 years.
“During his years at the helm he transformed what was essentially a village band into one of the most successful brass bands in East Anglia, achieving competition success at regional and national level.
“This success includes one of the highlights in the band’s long history when in 1983 Les conducted the band at the finals of the national brass band championships at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
“Les also established a number of hugely successful local concerts that continued for many years, including an annual massed band concert and the ever popular ‘Carols for All’ – a concert he was personally involved in for more than 30 years.
“Les was also the driving force behind the band’s successful trips to Haverhill’s twin towns in Germany and France, where he and the band established many long-term friendships.
“Through his leadership of the band and his involvement in other musical organisations, Les has been an inspiration to a whole generation of musicians.
“Many of the people that are still playing in the band today recognise him as the person that inspired and enthused them to take up a brass instrument.
“Les was still actively involved with the band in his role as President and despite his illness was always there to support the band’s concerts and other functions.
“No one has had a bigger or more influential impact on the band over the past 50 years than Les.
“He will be sadly missed by us all. Our condolences and thoughts are with Jean, Karen, Mark and his family during this difficult time.”
Les’ funeral will be next Wednesday (November 6) at 11.30am at the Old Independent Church.
His family invites well wishers to make donations to either the East Anglian Air Ambulance and/or Leukaemia Lymphoma Research.
Haverhill Rovers are likely to hold a minute’s silence for keen-fan Les before their game at the New Croft against Wivenhoe Town on Saturday (November 2, 3pm kick off).
For all the latest news see today’s (Thursday, October 31) Echo.