West Sussex pays tribute to the man who saved Southwick Hill and Chichester Festival Theatre

On August 8, the West Sussex flag will be lowered to half-mast to remember former county council chairman Ian RW Elliott, who died in Chichester on July 1, aged 89.

Though born in Southampton, on September 26, 1932, Ian was truly a Sussex man, growing up in a Southwick council house and later living in Shoreham for almost 60 years in the same family home he and his wife Betty bought in 1963.

His professional life saw him in a series of roles in education across East Sussex, teaching sports and science at Ifield in Crawley, running science fairs at Brighton Polytechnic, managing the Brighton Teachers’ Centre and later becoming an adviser for educational technology based in Lewes. He was also an active Sussex Downsman and the founder of a vibrant local residents society.

However, he was best known for his parallel public service career, as a councillor for Shoreham Urban District Council from 1971-74, where he sparred with the indomitable Maureen Colquhoun, Adur District Council from 1974-1979 and West Sussex County Council from 1973-2001, culminating in four years as chairman. He also served for many years in the honorary role of Deputy Lieutenant.

Ian Elliott and his wife Betty meeting the Queen

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Mark Elliott, Ian’s son, said: “Widely respected for attempting to find consensus rather than seeking party political point-scoring, he was especially proud of his victories in preserving the local environment – fighting to maintain rights of way/footpaths, preserving the traditional collective rights of citizens over common lands when threatened by developers and most specifically in saving Southwick Hill by ensuring the A27 took a long tunnel rather than a diabolically deep pair of cuttings.

Former West Sussex County Council chairman Ian Elliott, who died on July 1 in Chichester, aged 89

"He also managed to conjure up elusive cross-party agreement in December 1997 that allowed the county council to guarantee emergency bridging loans that saved Chichester Festival Theatre from technical bankruptcy.”

Numerous tributes have arrived from all sides of the political spectrum, as well as former civil servants.

Kieran Stigant, former county council chief executive, said: “Ian's contribution to the council was enormous, not just at that important time [as chair] but throughout the nearly three decades he served. However, it is not really Ian's political acumen that I remember best but his sense of humour. He always had a funny story to tell and laughter was never far away, even at the most fraught of times.”

Jim Oliver, Ian’s former PA, remembers he was “never content to accept the 'we always do it this way’, he worked tirelessly as county chairman to improve standards and systems wherever he could and in particular, went out of his way to thank the people of West Sussex who really helped to make a difference in the county.”

Despite his high profile in Chichester and latterly on the Assembly of European Regions, Ian was first and foremost a modest, home-loving, family man. His beloved wife Betty, a former primary school teacher and prolific poet, pre-deceased him by less than three months.

Ian leaves behind daughter Jane, a speech therapist, sons Tim, a professor in Earth sciences, and Mark, a travel writer, and grandson Zak Booth Elliott, currently an MSc student in London.