‘Inspirational’ former council chairman leaves ‘immense legacy’

Margaret Johnson, pictured as chairman in 2005
Margaret Johnson, pictured as chairman in 2005

Tributes have been paid to the ‘inspirational’ first female chairman at West Sussex County Council, who died last week.

Margaret Johnson, a former Mid Sussex district and Lindfield parish councillor, was the ceremonial head of the county council from 2001-2008 and represented Lindfield and High Weald from 1981 to 2009.

She died on Saturday November 12 and flags at county council buildings flew at half-mast on Monday November 14 as a mark of respect.

During the course of her distinguished public service career in Sussex she was supported by her late husband Derrick, who died a few weeks before her.

Christine Field, Margaret’s successor as county councillor for Lindfield and High Weald, said: “I have been honoured to follow in her example of public service to the people of Lindfield and High Weald and pay tribute to the enormous contribution which she made to them and to all of West Sussex, through her chairmanship of the council.

“Her legacy is immense and her presence, and that of her husband Derrick will be sadly missed.”

Margaret became vice-chairman at the county council in 1997, and then served as chairman for seven years, which is the longest chairmanship in the past 40 years.

She also acted as chairman of the Governance Committee, helping the county council to develop the cabinet and scrutiny system, as well as the network of county local committees, and also chaired and vice-chaired the Standards Committee, seeking to promote high standards of conduct for members and to establish the local standards regime.

Margaret was also a member of the Sussex Police Authority from 1985-2005 and she served as chairman from 1999-2001, steering the authority and Sussex Police through a particularly challenging period.

She took a great interest in education matters, sitting on the Education Committee and chairing some of its sub-committees.

She was appointed a deputy lieutenant for West Sussex in 2002, and also represented the county council on a number of royal visits, including those by the Queen in 2002, 2003, and 2006.

She was presented to other members of the royal family on visits to the county, including the Prince of Wales, Duke of York, Earl of Wessex, Princess Royal, Dukes of Kent and Gloucester, and Princess Alexandra.

In a statement, the Mid Sussex Conservative Association said: “The Mid Sussex Conservative Association was extremely proud that local county councillor Mrs Margaret Johnson was elected as the first female chairman in the history of West Sussex County Council.

“Mrs Johnson was dedicated to her local community in Lindfield and surrounding area, helping to solve resident’s problems and representing local interests.

“She was an inspiration to a generation of councillors and dedicated to public service.

“On becoming county chairman, she travelled the length and breadth of the county, frequently accompanied by her husband, Derrick, but never lost her focus on her local community.”

Pat Arculus, current chairman of the county council, said: “Mrs Johnson was a very kind, intelligent person who carried out her public duties with great dignity and respect.

“Margaret was in her first term as chairman when I was first elected to the council and her support and guidance was invaluable.

“She and Derrick will be greatly missed by all who knew them.”

Crawley MP Henry Smith added: “When I was leader of West Sussex County Council I worked with Margaret Johnson when she was chairman and saw the wide respect she was rightly held in by so many.”

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