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THE man known as 'Mr Worcester' has died at the age of 81 - with city leaders paying respects to a "true giant".

Mike Layland gave his life to Worcester, serving a remarkable 44 years in public life as a city councillor before stepping down five years ago.

The two-times former Mayor of Worcester, who has a street named after him in Diglis, was handed Freedom of the City in 2014, joining the likes of Cecil Duckworth, Sir Edward Elgar and Stanley Baldwin.

Mr Layland's death led to an outpouring of tributes yesterday, with people across the city telling this newspaper how he had touched their lives.

Worcester MP Robin Walker said he was "desperately sad" to hear of his passing, calling him a "true gent and a giant of Worcester politics".

"He was such a lovely man - he was a giant of Worcester's politics for decades," he said.

"I'm terribly sad, he did a huge amount for the city and his community, it's terrible news."

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Councillor Simon Geraghty, the leader of Worcestershire County Council, said: "It's pretty shocking news to be honest.

"Mike was such a stalwart - he was a very good friend and colleague, and a fantastic advocate for Worcester. It comes as a shock to hear of his passing.

"He was very proud of the city and was never afraid to speak his mind - it's a great loss to Worcester."

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Labour Councillor Adrian Gregson, the leader of Worcester City Council, said: "He was a Labour Party member for a long, long time.

"He was a good servant to this city and that was acknowledged and recognised when he was made a Freeman.

"He was mayor twice, which is quite unusual, and after his retirement he was still involved with the life of the city.

"We send our condolences to his wife June and his family."

Elsewhere, Conservative group leader Councillor Marc Bayliss said: "Worcester has lost one of its finest and loyalist sons - RIP Mike."

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Former city mayor Councillor Roger Knight added: "We've all lost a good friend and the city's lost a great, faithful servant."

Another ex-mayor, Tory Councillor Andy Roberts said: "There's a road named after him in Diglis, I'm glad we got the chance to do that.

"He was that lovely combination of someone who was very 'proper' but he had that 'little lad' mischievousness about him."

Councillor Alan Feeney said "He was more than a public figure. Mike was a friend and an inspiration to me - I am heartbroken."

Councillor Lucy Hodgson added: "Mike was a very special man who was a good friend and supported my development as a councillor - thank you Mike, my thoughts go to June."

And Councillor Richard Udall said: "We hardly ever agreed on issues, but we never had a cross word - an opponent, not an enemy, and a friend, not a foe - condolences to his family."

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Former councillor Margaret Layland, his sister-in-law, said: "It's a great personal loss because he was my brother-in-law, but I also recognise the loss to the city."

PEOPLE ACROSS THE CITY UNITE FOR MIKE

REACTION among the general public poured in yesterday, with people calling him "a one-off".

City resident Dave Etheridge said: "Mike was a good and honourable man who loved Worcester, my thoughts are with his family and friends. Rest in Peace Mike."

On Twitter a poster called 'Remember the Fallen', a social media feed dedicated to ex-soldiers, said: "RIP Mike, a husband, father, grandfather and friend to so many. You will be greatly missed."

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Toby Porter, from Acorns Hospice, said "It's very sad news. Mike was a wonderful public servant and great friend to us at Acorns Hospice and the Three Counties."

Former literary festival organiser Lisa Ventura said: " I am so sad to hear this news.

"He was so supportive when I launched the Worcestershire Literary Festival back in 2010/11.

"He came to open it with Margaret Layland when he was mayor, I have such fond memories of this lovely chap.

"He did Worcester proud, a light has gone out in the city today."

A LONG CAREER IN PUBLIC LIFE

MIKE was first elected in 1966 as a Labour councillor, later becoming an independent from 1994, and spent 44 years on Worcester City Council.

Until stepping down in May 2012 he had only been off the council for two years during a 46-year period, from 1992-1994.

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He was the Mayor of Worcester twice, the first spell in 1981-82 and again in 2010-11 and represented the old Holy Trinity ward and then Nunnery during his councillor life.

He also had the honour of being Worcester's last High Sheriff in 1973/74, and chaired Worcester's carnival committee for an astonishing 27 years.

The former train driver, who did national service in the Worcestershire Regiment, also formed his own security firm during his career.

Living in Shap Drive, Warndon, part of his contribution to the city was recognised with the naming of a street after him, Diglis Walk, in 2010 - yards from where he was born in 1935 as one of seven children.

In 2014 he was made a Freeman of Worcester, with the council saying the honour would recognise his "lifelong contribution" to the "democratic, social and cultural well-being" of the city.

But even after leaving the council he was still active as a volunteer, a trustee, chair or vice-chair on various community bodies, including Perdiswell Young People’s Leisure Club.

In recent years he could usually be found immaculately dressed in a white or black shirt without a single paint blemish, still going about his duties.

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A heart surgery survivor, he was admitted to Worcestershire Royal Hospital last week with heart complications, passing away two days ago.

He leaves wife June, one grown-up son Mark, who lives in New Zealand, and two grown-up stepchildren, as well as grandchildren.

* Do you want to pay your own tribute to Mike? Leave your comments below or email te@worcesternews.co.uk.