TRIBUTES have been pouring in for a Bideford councillor and well-known local businessman who "changed the direction of Torridge."
Steve Clarke OBE, who was a member of both Bideford Town Council and Torridge District Council, died at his home on Tuesday morning aged 62.
A statement on Bideford Town Council’s website says: “It is with deep sadness that Bideford Town Council received the news that Councillor Steve Clarke OBE passed away on Tuesday 10 December 2013.
“Steve was a long-standing Town and District Councillor and cared passionately about the town and the people in it.
“He has been instrumental in many projects for the benefit of Bideford throughout the years and will be greatly missed.
Cllr Clarke had represented Bideford East at Bideford Town and Torridge District Council for ten years, and was elected as a community alliance independent
Mr Clarke, who grew up in Shebbear, was also the owner of Bideford heavy plant hire company S E L Clarke Ltd.
He was heavily involved in restoring the Kathleen and May and campaigning to keep the vessel in the town, and in 2008, he was awarded and OBE for his services to maritime heritage in the town.
He said at the time: "Bideford the little white town is and will always be very dear to my heart, it has been a lovely place to bring up my family, and the quality of life here means everything to me."
Tributes have flooded in from Cllr Clarke's colleagues.
Heather Blackburn, Bideford Town Clerk, said Mr Clarke will be greatly missed.
She said: “During the time I knew Steve he was an invaluable support to both me personally as the Town Clerk, to the Council, and to the wider community.
“He brought a broad business acumen to the many projects with which he was involved and was always very generous with his time, expertise and help.
“He will be greatly missed and my thoughts are with his family.”
Leader of Torridge Cllr Philip Collins said: "Steve will be remembered for years to come for his sincerity, open critical friendship and observation, passion for Bideford and not least his recent sterling work with the Bideford Sea Cadets.
"He was instrumental in turning Torridge around to become a much improved council in his years as Deputy Leader. My thoughts are with his family."
Head of Paid Service Jenny Wallace said: "Steve has played an influential role ever since he was elected and was actively involved in a number of projects for Bideford Town Council too.
"He always challenged the impenetrable world of accountancy and the evening before he passed away, he was taking part in the debates in an informal Full Council meeting his own inimitable and controversial style.
"My condolences go out to his wife and family."
Chair of Torridge Cllr Tony Inch said: "This is very sad news, Steve always came up with the other side of things to a debate, and made the Council more business-like. He will be missed not only on Torridge but also on Bideford Town Council as well."
Vice Chair of Torridge Cllr Andrew Eastman: "Steve Clarke was a legend in his time, I am very proud to have been involved with the Sea Cadet Project with Steve, it was an ambition of his to get a beautiful new HQ building in the Park. He will be sadly missed, may perpetual light shine on his soul."
Cllr Kathy Murdoch said: "I can only add to the many wonderful emails which have already circulated about Steve, this is such a huge loss for Bideford and for everyone who knew him.
"Steve was unique in so many ways, his unassuming and kind nature and his passion to stick to his guns when he really believed in something is what I will remember him for most.
"There are so many lives he touched that he did not even know about - I will miss him so much, both as a colleague and a very great friend."
Cllr Margaret Brown said: "Steve always had the Community at heart, and his business knowledge was always of great interest and of use when making council decisions.
"For me I will always remember him for bringing the Kathleen and May to Bideford and the pleasure that gave to us all."
Cllr Roger Tisdale said: "I shall miss Steve as a friend and as fellow councillor for his common sense approach to many of the issues affecting both Bideford and TDC over the years.
"He leaves behind as a permanent memory the Sea Cadets Centre and the number of years that the Kathleen and May graced Bideford with her presence."
Cllr Phil Pennington said: "I did not always agree with Steve’s political views, but have known of him and his work for the community for 40 years. A huge loss for Torridge, Bideford Town Council, the Sea Cadets and many beyond. Steve changed the direction of Torridge. I will hold this in my memory. Steve was fundamental in enabling tremendous improvement in our council. My special thoughts are with Marilyn and the family."
John van de Laarschot was Chief Executive of Torridge when Cllr Clarke was Deputy Leader. He said: "I am deeply sorry to hear of the death of Cllr Clarke. He was one of a kind, a larger than life character filled with passion, a driven man who cared about Torridge and fought long and hard to improve the economic and social wellbeing for all fortunate enough to live in or visit the area.
"From a personal perspective Cllr Clarke was largely responsible for my acceptance into the public sector and for that I shall always be grateful. I recall with fond memories the many times we crossed swords only to eventually secure alignment on key and pressing issues.
"His death will be a huge loss not only for his family and friends but for all of the residents and businesses living and working in and around Torridge."
Vanessa Saunders, Special Projects Manager said: "Steve was a unique man with a heart of gold. I will miss his ideas, his friendship and his ability to always look on the bright side of life."
The flag at Riverbank House has been lowered as a mark of respect to Cllr Clarke.