Champion of race relations mourned

PUBLISHED: 15:53 12 August 2009 | UPDATED: 17:02 25 August 2010

REVERED: Gurdip Singh Dhillon.

REVERED: Gurdip Singh Dhillon.

TRIBUTES have poured in following the sudden death of a borough s first Asian mayor who helped champion race relations.

TRIBUTES have poured in following the sudden death of a borough's first Asian mayor who helped champion race relations.

Former Greenwich councillor Gurdip Singh Dhillon MBE died at his home in Coventry on Saturday, August 1, aged 70.

Mr Dhillon was elected mayor in 1990 and served on the council until 2002.

Despite moving away from London 18 months ago, he kept a strong interest in the borough, attending the 19th Asian Mela in June, which he co-founded.

Sadhu Biring, secretary of the Asian Chamber of Commerce - founded by Mr Dhillon - said the Asian community was "in shock" over the former mayor's death, who was in the borough in late July to meet friends and colleagues.

He described Mr Dhillon's contribution to the Asian community as "outstanding", having secured a site for Woolwich Sikh Temple, and founded community and resource centres.

Mr Biring said: "We are still in shock because he was only here last week so full of life, he had no illness.

"Words cannot describe the contribution he has made, we are immensely proud of him.

"He has always supported from the frontline, had a solid reserve, but was also unassuming."

Two coaches full of friends, loved ones community leaders led a cortege of cars up to Coventry on Tuesday for the former mayor's funeral.

A close friend of Mr Dhillon for nearly 40 years, Jagir Sekhon, herself a former mayor of Greenwich, said: "He was fantastic as a campaigner for the whole community.

"Nothing was ever too much for him. You could call him up at 2am and he'd be there for you.

"At the same time, he never said he had done something - he always said that the community had done it."

Mr Dhillon was first elected to the council in 1978, representing Charlton and later Woolwich Common.

When he took up the post at the age of 52, he was running his family's sub-post office in Petts Wood.

Eltham MP Clive Efford had served with the former mayor for several years on Greenwich council.

He said: "I was very sad to learn of the death of Gurdip Dhillon. He was a first rate champion on behalf of the community and will be sadly missed.

"He was also one of the founders of the Asian Mela which is now an important cultural event in the borough. My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

Chairman of the borough's race committee, he fought for greater religious tolerance.

Greenwich council leader Chris Roberts said: "Gurdip's motto was always to see a better understanding between the different communities, better race relations and religious tolerance."

He leaves a wife, Surinder, one son, two daughters and four grandchildren.

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