Bungay stalwart dies

RALPH Harris, who has died aged 92, was the last chairman of Bungay Urban District Council.

His casting vote was decisive in October 1973 and ended a 7-7 deadlock on a proposal to create the first mayor of Bungay.

Ironically, Mr Harris only remained in post for a few months as local government reorganisation spelled the end of Bungay UDC in May 1974, which dated from 1910. It then became part of an enlarged Waveney District Council.

In March 1974, in a further dramatic reversal, the town council voted 8-6 to return to the former title “chairman” and not have a mayor. It was not until 1997 that Bungay finally had a mayor.

The town mayor row in the late 60s and early 1970s had been deeply divisive, which Mr Harris recognised when using his casting vote.

“I cannot see for the life of me what difference it is going to make whether we call this person the chairman or the town mayor,” he said after the historic meeting.

Born in Luton to a father who was a hat maker, Mr Harris joined the Territorial Army before the second world war. He served in the Royal Engineers. He was involved in laying mines from Newcastle to Thorpeness, where he lost his fingers in an explosion of a faulty detonator.

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He had met and married a Bungay girl during his Army service. Later, they lived in Luton, where he worked as a taxi driver, but returned to Bungay in 1951 to become a postman until he retired 28 years later.

He was a former secretary of the town’s branch of the Union of Post Officer Workers and was first elected to Bungay UDC in 1963. A vice-chairman of Bungay Labour Party, he served as chairman of the highways and health committee and in 1973 became the last UDC chairman.

A keen gardener, he grew prize vegetables, and also chrysanthemums. Even at the age of 90 he was laying paving slabs to create a new garden, complete with two large greenhouses.

After the death of his wife, Kathleen, in 1959, he married again. He leaves a widow, Joyce, five children, 11 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

A funeral service will be held at Earlham Crematorium, Norwich, on Tuesday at 1.30pm.