Tributes paid to ‘brilliant’ Bideford councillor Steve Clarke

Steve Clarke OBE, pictured with the Kathleen & May before it left Bideford for good in May 2011.

Steve Clarke OBE, pictured with the Kathleen & May before it left Bideford for good in May 2011. - Credit: Archant

Updated: Councillor Steve Clarke OBE, businessman and owner of the Kathleen & May, passed away at his home on Tuesday morning.

The Kathleen & May, Mr Clarke's pride and joy, leaving Bideford for the last time in May 2011.

The Kathleen & May, Mr Clarke's pride and joy, leaving Bideford for the last time in May 2011. - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been pouring in for a Bideford councillor and well known businessman who died on Tuesday morning.

Steve Clarke OBE was a Torridge District and Bideford Town councillor.

Steve Clarke OBE was a Torridge District and Bideford Town councillor. - Credit: Archant

Steve Clarke OBE passed away at home aged 62. He leaves behind his wife of 40 years Marilyn, his children Phil, Roger and Lucy and nine grandchildren.

Bideford AFC Youth Girls observed a minute's silence for Cllr Steve Clarke OBE, who helped to fund t

Bideford AFC Youth Girls observed a minute's silence for Cllr Steve Clarke OBE, who helped to fund the startup of girl's football at The Robins. - Credit: Archant

A notice posted on the Bideford Town Council website today read: “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.”

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Mr Clarke was elected as a community alliance independent councillor in 2003 for Bideford Town Council and Torridge District Council, representing Bideford East.

In 2006 he was elected deputy leader of Torridge and was instrumental in turning the council from the second worst council in England to ‘good’ in 2005.

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Successful businessman

As well as being a town and district councillor, Mr Clarke was also a successful businessman and owner of heavy plant hire company S E L Clarke Ltd in Bideford.

He grew up in Shebbear and got his first job as a labourer on a pig farm before buying his first clapped-out JCB at 21 and growing his multi-million pound business.

But Mr Clarke was most well known for his work in restoring the historic schooner the Kathleen and May.

In 2008, Mr Clarke was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List for his services to maritime heritage to the community in Bideford.

He spent 12 years lovingly working on the 100-year-old three masted vessel, battling the district council to be able to keep her in Bideford.

But in May 2011, the £25,000 mooring fees became too much and the Kathleen & May set sail from Bideford to Liverpool, where she has been ever since.

‘A brilliant man’

Mr Clarke dedicated much of his time to the town, particularly on the Bideford Festival Committee and through his work with the Bideford Sea Cadets.

In August this year, Mr Clarke gifted the cadets a brand new building to replace their old, worn down hut in Victoria Park.

The former Science Block from Chulmleigh Community College was rescued by Mr Clarke when his company carried out demolition work in its redevelopment.

Chris de Blocq van Kuffeler, chairman of the Bideford and District Sea Cadets, said: “Steve has been a good friend to the Sea Cadets for some years now, and was passionatly dedicated to the general plight of young people to ensure a better future for them.

“Most recently his project, following many years of meetings and discussions, to provide a new venue for the cadets, and the community, will secure its future in the town.

“This project is all but finished, and it is extremely sad that he will not be at the opening of the building.

“Through the years that we have known Steve, it became obvious that one of his goals in life was to leave this world a better place than he received it and to open the eyes to the needs of others.

“We are sure that his family will continue that quest, and continue to bring light to the world with his memory.

“During the coming days, we will have time to remember him, and the very large hole he leaves in, not only the world of business, but in the community as a whole.”

Bideford Mayor, Cllr Simon Inch, said he was sad that Mr Clarke would not be around to see the completed building.

He said: “I am shocked and saddened at the passing of Councillor Clarke. He supported me greatly over the last two years as mayor.

“We will miss him and his business mind on the town council, he brought great expertise to many debates.

“My thoughts go out to his wife and family at this time.”

‘Worked tirelessly’

Heather Blackburn, Bideford town clerk, said Mr Clarke had been a great support to her as town clerk and she will ‘miss him immensely’.

She said: “Steve was a dedicated, extremely hard working Councillor who held the best interests of the people of Bideford very close to his heart and worked tirelessly to support the community.”

Cllr Roger Johnson, deputy leader of Torridge District Council, said he thought Mr Clarke was a ‘brilliant man’.

“He was extremely clever and was a great person to sit down with if you had a problem because he had a brilliant mind and could always solve anything.

“He was always a great person to bounce ideas off, we’re going to miss him a lot.”

Mike Hacker, a retired local building contractor, said: “Steve will be sadly missed in Bideford by a large number of people. He contributed a great deal to the local community. My condolences to his family.”

Councillor Phil Pester, who sat on Bideford Town Council with Mr Clarke, said: “Steve was a maverick who got things done in his own special way.Brushing aside the P.C. brigade. A loyal friend who I shall miss greatly,but remember with admiration.”

‘Friend and mentor’

Fellow town councillor Andy Powell said: “I first met Steve Clarke 14 years ago. He persuaded me to stand for the Community Alliance Party and from that I became a town councillor.

“He has been a friend and mentor ever since.

“I once told him I’d love to sail on the Kathleen and May; he rang me up one day to offer that chance.

“I thought I’d be going to Gloucester and help bring it back to Bideford but no... he wanted me to go to Bilbao (Spain!)

“That week onboard the K&M has been a highlight of my life.

“That call also typifies Steve’s approach to life. With a wave of his hand or the occasional lobbed grenade he’d slash through red tape and flatten mountains to achieve things; and no more so than in his desire to achieve things for Bideford.

“I once asked the town council to make Steve a Freeman of Bideford in recognition of his work in the town. Sadly the bid failed.

“I believe Bideford has lost it’s greatest advocate. The return of it’s greatest ambassador, the Kathleen and May, so much a part of Steve’s life, would be a truly fitting epitaph.”

The flag at Riverbank House and Bideford Town Hall was lowered in Mr Clarke’s honour this week and a minute’s silence was held at Bideford Town Council’s meeting on Thursday and Torridge District Council’s meeting on Monday.

His funeral will be held at Bideford High Street Methodist Church on Monday, December 23 at 1.30pm, followed by an interment at Higher Cemetery, Bideford and the wake at the Commodore Hotel in Instow with a firework display.

Donations can be made to the Lighthouse Construction Charity or Exeter Onocology Centre Trust at the service or c/o Braddicks & Sherborne Funeral Directors, Bideford, telephone: 01237 477222.

The flag at Torridge District Council will fly at half mast today in Mr Clarke’s memory - to read more tributes from his colleagues at Torridge District Council, click here.

Did you know Steve Clarke? Email your tributes to or call 01271 341658.

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