TRIBUTES have been pouring in for former Gravesham Council leader Mike Snelling who has died in hospital.

The 66-year-old died on Friday afternoon (October 20) in intensive care at Darent Valley Hospital after a brief illness.

His wife Heather, speaking at her Meopham home, said: “We are trying to come to terms with our loss and have been comforted by the many messages of condolence. “He was most known to people as a politician but he was first and foremost a devoted father and doting grandfather.

“I am grateful to everyone for their messages and offers of support. “It is moving to know how well thought of Mike was.”

She added: “He was tireless in everything he did. “As a councillor he would often be up dealing with emails from 5.30 in the morning and often didn’t return from meetings until late at night but he still managed to find time for his family and his friends.”

The couple met when they were children and members of the same church in Becontree near where Mike was born in Chadwell Heath, Essex.

They were married for 43 years.

They have two daughters each with two sons aged eight and three.

Daughter Abigail lives in Sydney, Australia, and Mike and Heather had just returned from visiting them for both their grandsons' birthdays there.

Their other daughter, Kirsten, lives in Sussex and is staying with her mother with her two boys.

Councillor Snelling worked as a banker for 37 years, taking early retirement as a senior corporate manager to concentrate on his public work.

His political career began when he became a parish councillor in Bradwell, Essex.

The couple moved to Gravesend and to their home in Meopham 28 years ago.

In 1987 he was elected as member for Meopham North on Gravesham Borough Council.

He was leader of the Conservative group on the borough council and was elected to Kent County Council as member for Gravesend Tollgate in 2001 and Gravesham Rural four years later.

And from 2007 to 2011 he was leader of Gravesham council.

Mrs Snelling added: “He was particularly proud to have seen so many of the projects he was involved in come to fruition. He played a major role in the establishment of Cyclopark among many achievements.”

Tributes have poured in from the many organisations he was associated with.

County council leader Paul Carter said: “As a county member and as a ward member for Gravesend, leading the council and more recently the Gravesham Conservative Group, Mike made an enormous contribution to Kent and for the people of Gravesham.”

Kent Police Authority chairman Mike Hill said: “Mike made an enormous contribution to the public as a police authority member.

“Over the last three years he has played a crucial role in policing matters particularly helping to drive the audit and governance committee, professional standards committee, and budget review group.”

Gravesham borough council leader Cllr John Burden said: "This is awful news and my thoughts are with Mike's family at this difficult time. “Mike was a formidable political opponent as well as a faithful servant to the borough and all his constituents. “He will be missed by the whole council."

The council’s chief executive David Hughes said: "This is a huge shock and it will take us all some time to come to terms with the loss of such an influential figure as Cllr Snelling has been for many years. “But that is as nothing compared to the loss that Mike’s wife and family have suffered."

Former Gravesham mayor and ex-councillor Bronwen McGarrity said: “It is with great sorrow that I learnt of Mike’s death. “Over the years I have learnt to respect and admire Mike for all that he has done for family, the borough of Gravesham and the county. “His charity work was endless. “He always gave everything he had to all that he was involved in. I often wondered when he found time to sleep as his energy was boundless.

“He was a man to be admired in every way with unlimited talent in many fields. We shall all miss him a great deal.”

Meopham parish councillors and residents react to the news.

Ken Kemsley said: “This must be a terrible shock for his family and our hearts go out to them. Mike will be a difficult act to follow and will be sorely missed by all in Meopham.”

Max Bramer said: “I am stunned. This is a great loss to the community. I have known Mike since we were both governors of Gravesend Grammar School for Girls back in 1992.”

Mark Everson added: “I didn’t know Mike as well as many of you, but he always came across as a very good man, who worked tirelessly for the good of all things Gravesham. He will be missed a great deal.”

Mike was a member and past president of Gravesend and Meopham Rotary.

He was a prominent support of the charity REACH, of which his daughter Kirsten is a co-ordinator. REACH is an association for children with upper limb deficiency, a condition his youngest grandson has.

Funeral arrangements have not been made as yet. It is envisaged that there will be a family funeral with a Thanksgiving service at a later date.

And a post-mortem examination is expected to take place to determine the cause of death.