LETTER: ‘Mr Burgess Hill’

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Malcolm Stephens sadly died of a heart attack at his home, aged 70.

This is a tribute to a man who has been so much part of Burgess Hill life.

Malcolm was brought up in Ipswich where he attended the Northgate Grammar School. When sixteen he went to Poplar Technical College where he obtained an Ordinary National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. Subsequently he was at Brunel University where he met Terri, who was reading Social Science. Apparently the engineers ,who were all men, outnumbered the social scientists, who were all women, ten to one.

His career took him into the oil industry, where he worked in multi-nationals. His longest employment was for 23 years at Kvaerner Oil and Gas. In 2003 he joined Anvila Limited, where he worked as senior mechanical engineer on several BP oil and gas projects for the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea. Latterly he became a director of the company. Malcolm was working full time on contracts up to March last year. He would leave the house at 5.45am, travelling to Leatherhead or Woking, in order to be back by 5.30pm - to give him time to devote to the many activities he had in Burgess Hill.

Malcolm was a devoted family man. He and his American wife, Terri, have two children, Elizabeth and Joseph. Both he and Terri have been very active members of the Burgess Hill community. Malcolm was involved in an extraordinary number of pursuits during the time he lived here.

He was involved in local politics as a Liberal Democrat. He was a prominent member of the Lions; with them he started the Burgess Hill bike ride. He was a school governor, and effective member of the PTA. He was in the theatre club; a lively participant in the panto. He was leader of the Town Council. He was instrumental in establishing the Town Crier. A keen walker, he enjoyed the beautiful countryside around the town and went on many walking holidays with Terri. He was a true community man and did an extraordinary amount for the town he cared so passionately about. If there is anyone who deserved a title ‘Mr Burgess Hill’ it would have been Malcolm for the amount of effort and hard work he put in, and always with a smile.

As a Liberal Democrat Malcolm was a tireless worker. When the Lib Dems held a majority, Malcolm, a Councillor in the old West ward, chaired the Town Council and proudly escorted the Queen on her visit here in 1999. Later he stood as Town Councillor in Victoria. A great wordsmith and excellent editor, he was a valued member of the Focus team. He was ward organiser for Dunstall and has always worked tirelessly for the party. An active fundraiser, he started the ‘Bonus Ball’ lottery and has supported it throughout. With Terri he always won the Christmas quiz – we were informing them of their latest win the very day he died.

Since standing down as Chair of BHTC, Malcolm became a leading member of Burgess Hill Lions, continuing his passion to help those in the community who needed a little extra support to live full lives. He served on the board as Treasurer. He was a member of the group who ran the Book Den. The Burgess Hill Bike Ride was devised by Malcolm as long ago as 1992, with the first event held in 1993. He not only continued with Terri to organise the event each year, but he also participated. Since then it has raised over £100,000 for many charities, including Barnardos, Knowles Tooth and Chailey Heritage. The main beneficiary was for many years the St Peter and St James Hospice.

Malcolm was Chairman of Governors at Birchwood Grove School. The head teacher wrote that they enjoyed a very happy and relaxed professional relationship and that he would always be thankful to Malcolm for the influence he had on his career.

Malcolm was a well-known member of the Burgess Hill Theatre Club. Prior to his death, he was appearing as ‘Chip’ in Sleeping Beauty which is being performed at the Martlets Hall. As an actor he was always enthusiastic, often turning up to the first rehearsal with most of his lines already learnt.

He was an ardent supporter of the Hillians. Their fates were joined. When Malcolm was leading the town council the Hillians had their most successful year – they achieved a unique treble in winning the Championship for a third time, and again securing a league and cup double, back to back.

Malcolm was a tenacious person – he could always be relied on to get things done, and make things work. He devoted himself to taking an active role in the town, while supporting his family and holding down a senior executive position. He was modest, almost secretive – few of his friends were aware of everything that he undertook. In whatever he did he achieved positive results that helped other people and the less fortunate. He was much loved, greatly respected and, after such an abrupt exit, will be missed terribly by so many people.

Roger Cartwright

Keymer Road, Burgess Hill


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