A HIGHLY-respected member of the community described as an ‘amazing man’ with a ‘strong heart’ has died.
Tony Sandford, 79, was a pivotal part of local life in Rothbury but also played a huge role further afield with a distinguished career at ITV Tyne Tees.
Mr Sandford moved to Newcastle in 1958 when the company started and he worked his way up to the role of executive producer with shows such as The Tube before ending up in international sales where he sold Supergran across the world.
He moved to Rothbury 42 years ago and was instrumental in setting up a number of clubs and events which would not have succeeded without his input.
But Mr Sandford passed away last Wednesday after suffering a series of strokes.
The first two happened in January, from which he started to recover.
However, he was struck by a third episode which left him unable to speak and move.
After a stay in hospital, he was moved to Castleview Care Home in Alnwick.
Partner Ann Hennessey said: “He had such a strong will and a strong heart and managed to get better from the first two.
“But he was watching the cricket when he just went over the third time.”
A father-of-two and grandfather-of-five, Mr Sandford was a Rothbury parish councillor for more than 15 years and served as the village’s representative on the former Alnwick District Council for four years.
He always had the best interests of the community at heart and it was this that led him to setting up the first Rothbury Traditional Music Festival in 1977 and Rothbury and Coquetdale Youth Project 15 years ago, both of which are still going strong today.
Fellow councillor and friend Peter Dawson said: “It is difficult to put into words what kind of person Tony was. I have known him for nigh on 40 years and right from the start, he was involved in village life.
“Had it not been for him we wouldn’t have had the music festival or the youth project. That is a standing testament to the efforts he put in, it really is.
“He did so much and when something like that comes to a sudden end it leaves a big void.
“He will be a very big miss.”
Stuart Athey, youth project manager said: “Tony worked tirelessly over the years to make sure the project was healthy and successful and he is one of the main reasons that we are still here today. Tony retired as chairman of the Rothbury and Coquetdale Youth Project in 2008 and remained a trustee until he sadly passed away.
“He will be hugely missed, not only by all those involved with this project but by the community as a whole. The sympathies of all the trustees go to his family.”
Mr Sandford was also an avid member of the Labour group and served as its deputy leader to Coun Robert Arckless on the district council.
“I have huge respect and great admiration and affection for Tony,” Coun Arckless said. “He was an extraordinary bloke who came from a very humble background and worked his way up the ranks at Tyne Tees.
“For a Labour candidate to win a seat in Rothbury was a major achievement.
“Tony Sandford made a difference. He made a massive impact on the community and will be missed by a lot of people.”
Coun Arckless added that Mr Sandford was instrumental in launching a leisure services policy for the former district area which led to numerous facilities being set-up. Alongside his love for the community Mr Sandford was also a family man and inspired his children, grandchildren and partner.
Daughter Cathy, 46, said: “He was amazing at drawing on his own experiences to give you confidence and belief in what you were doing.
“He left school at 14 and became a film runner. He was passionate about the arts and educated himself and that became his career.”
Mr Sandford took early retirement from his position at Tyne Tees to look after his late wife Jean who died of a brain tumour in 1988.
But after her death he devoted his time to the community.
Cathy added: “Her death left a big hole so he threw himself to things in the village.”
Ann of Harbottle, added: “I have known Tony for 36 years through our daughters and from day one of the music festival.
“We became partners five-and-a-half years ago and this time involved theatre, visitng family in the Midlands, which we both took great pleasure in.
“He loved the arts and opera was his biggest passion. One of his ambitions was to go to see La Scala in Milan and we did it with the dinner suit and evening dress.
“He loved Rothbury and the valley and he also loved Harbottle and made many friends here. He loved to have them round for dinner to enjoy good food and good wine.
“He will be sadly missed by me and all the family.”
Mr Sandford also helped to get the new Rothbury Community Hospital off the ground and fought for years to build a nursing home in the village.
He was also one of the first NHS Governors for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Brian Flood, chairman of the Trust, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear about Tony’s death. He was one of our first governors and we are extremely grateful for all the hard work he did for us over the past five years. Tony was passionate about improving healthcare and was a great campaigner on behalf of the people of Rothbury. He will be missed by everyone at the Trust who knew and worked with him.”
Tony leaves behind his partner and daughter as well as brother, Peter, son Tom, 48, and grandchildren Lauren, 19, John, 18, Ellen, 16, Sophie, 16, and Hannah, 14.
His funeral takes place today at 11am at All Saint’s Church in Rothbury followed by interment at Rothbury Cemetery.
Donations have been asked for in lieu of flowers to Rothbury and Coquetdale Youth Project.