Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Southwark Cathedral Funeral of Mayor Tayo Situ

Yesterday 1200 people packed Southwark Cathedral for the funeral of our Mayor, Cllr Tayo Situ, who died two weeks ago. It was an inspirational service which celebrated Tayo's life. I was honoured to play a part, paying tribute to Tayo and carrying the Mayoral Chain behind his coffin.

This is the tribute I gave:

"It is a great privilege to have been asked by his family to pay tribute today to the life of my friend, the Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Tayo Situ.

Tayo has been taken from us far too early, but at a time when as our serving Mayor, he was able to show to so many more people in our borough, across the rest of London and indeed the World all of those qualities for which we knew him and for which he had earned our respect – warmth, humour, integrity, friendliness and devotion to those causes and things which he cared about so deeply – his family, his church, his community and his borough of Southwark.

I first met Tayo in 2002 – we were both elected to the Council in the local elections that year. Tayo had been active in the community of Peckham for a long time before then – in particular he had helped to lead his community’s response to the tragic death of Damilola Taylor in 2000.

As a councillor and Labour Group member it was always clear that his was a voice in Group meetings of quiet authority and I shall miss his thoughtful contributions to discussions and debates.

Tayo was always busy – he would inevitably be en route from one meeting to another – not only fulfilling his role of community champion for Southwark, but also as a leading figure within the Nigerian community in London.

In opposition Tayo played a leading role in Southwark’s Labour Group. For six years he was our lead spokesperson on Equalities issues. It was a role which he fulfilled perfectly, dealing with some issues which were very difficult for us as a borough in an utterly straightforward way. He was not an advocate for special treatment or excuses or privileges for any section of our community, but merely agued that where there was an injustice we should do all that we could to put that right.

In the 2006 local elections Tayo deployed “Team Situ”– with Michael and Johnson following in their father’s footsteps on the campaign trail. He had trained them well! I know he was so proud of Michael being elected last May as a councillor in Livesey ward – in fact he was so proud of all of his children Elizabeth, Michael, Johnson, Victoria, Victor and his devoted and beloved wife, Abike -

You have good reason to be proud of him too.

After our victory in the local elections last year Tayo and I sat down to discuss what role he could play in our first year as an administration. I suggested that he should be Mayor – he was such a great role model for our community. He was attracted to the idea, but wasn’t sure he wanted to do it this year. I persisted, he thought about it some more, and decided that as I had asked he would be honoured. I am so pleased that I persisted and that he agreed to be our Mayor.

During his mayoralty Tayo was determined that we should celebrate Southwark and in particular the achievements and successes of the vast majority of young people in our borough, who work hard to achieve their potential, who stay out of trouble and contribute in so many different ways to making our borough a better place to live.

Whenever and wherever I saw Tayo his face would light up and he would give the warmest of greetings – more often that not he would say ‘Ahhh My Leader’ – which I was able to pre-empt over the past year giving a little bow and an even warmer welcome to ‘Mr Mayor’.

The only time when that smile was absent was in December last year when he called me into the Mayor’s parlour to tell me that he would have to go into hospital as his specialist had found something which required investigation. There was no doubt that he feared what might be the consequence of that investigation. And I recall the dreadful night not so many weeks ago when he telephoned me to tell me that the Doctors had just given him a poor prognosis.

But throughout this period I know that he found strength from his faith, his family and his many friends. People from all walks of life were drawn to Tayo, whatever the circumstances they met him in. I think it must have been that innate sense that here was a good man. I recall the wooden cross lying on his hospital pillow which he said had been given to him by one of the nurses treating him.

Tayo was a man who had made some huge choices in his life. He had chosen his Christian faith. He had chosen to come to the United Kingdom to study, live and raise his family. He had chosen to become involved in public life and stand up for his community. But it was we as his colleagues on the Council he who had chosen him to be our Mayor over the past twelve months – without doubt it was the right choice for us to have made.

He was the best of Southwark. As a friend I will miss him, as a borough Southwark will miss him, and we are all much poorer for the passing of our “friendly Mayor”."

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