Tributes pour in for Lewes Bonfire’s ultimate ambassador

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Tributes have continued to be paid to Keith Austin, the champion of the Bonfire traditions who was found dead at his Lewes home last month.

One correspondent, who preferred to remain anonymous for personal reasons, said: “Many of us first knew Keith from the early 1960s when he ran The Den, a coffee bar opposite St Thomas’s Church in Cliffe High Street.

“It was somewhere to hang out after school or ‘tech’, listen to the jukebox, play on the pinball machine and a good many romances started here, under the watchful and twinkling eye of Keith.

“Many of these were often ‘stirred up’ by Keith, who provided the entertainment and gossip while whipping up a frothy coffee. In the end, he was presented with a wooden spoon which he proudly hung up behind the bar!

“He was a kind and good listener to all our teenage woes and with his infectious laugh and wonderful sense of humour he provided a ‘home from home’ for many of us. RIP Keith.”

Sharon Reid, on behalf of Commercial Square Bonfire Society, said: “Keith was the ultimate ambassador of Lewes Bonfire. He was a dear friend and Honourary Life Member of our Society and he will be sorely missed by ourselves and the wider Bonfire community. Rest in Peace Keith.”

Matt Street, Commander-in-Chief of Southover Bonfire Society, said Mr Austin “was the dearest of friends”. He recalled one chilly evening when they were with friends in The King’s Head, Lewes, seeing in the New Year.

“Keith had to be told that the new contraption in the corner was a karaoke machine – and he was happy to have something new to moan about. But by the early hours he couldn’t be dragged away from it.”

Mr Street said he finally gave a moving rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

“He told me that he had always wanted to sing it, and that the song had acted as driving motivation – a musical reminder to leave no stone unturned, to walk all the paths that life puts before you, to live not just for the moment but for the very existence of the life we are blessed with.

“Keith never walked away from a good cause, if he could help he would whether friend or stranger. His loyalty to friends was only ever matched by his sheer stubborness to remain independent to the last.”

Mr Austin, 74, of Priory Street, Lewes, was involved in the town’s November 5 celebrations for more than 50 years.

He was a former secretary of Lewes Bonfire Council and, in addition to his Commercial Square connection, was secretary and life member of Southover Bonfire Society and a life member of Cliffe Bonfire Society.