Region’s leaders turn out to pay respects to late Sunderland City Council leader

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.
Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.

Political figures from across the North East joined mourners to pay their last respects to a city leader who had Sunderland “in his heart”.

Councillor Paul Watson died last week aged 63 following his cancer diagnosis last year.

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.

The Pallion ward member, who was first elected 20 years ago and who had led Sunderland City Council since 2008, had managed to attend each council meeting during his illness and had paid tribute to NHS staff who helped him keep up his duties.

St Benet’s RC Church in Monkwearmouth was packed out with hundreds of people as they joined the service.

The city’s three Labour MPs, political figures from across the region and Sunderland AFC legends Kevin Ball and Jimmy Montgomery were among those joined the city’s dignitaries, including the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear Susan Winfield and Mayor of Sunderland Doris MacKnight.

Among the great-grandfather’s family was his wife and fellow councillor Sue and sister Cecilia Gofton, also a Pallion ward member, who was accompanied by her daughter, broadcaster Lauren Laverne.

Paul was at the heart of Sunderland and Sunderland was in his heart.

Iain Malcolm

The service was led by Father Michael McCoy, who spoke of how Coun Watson’s family background and his first career in the shipyards of Sunderland had formed the basis of his work ethic.

He explained how his time as a businessman, which included cars and the pub trade, had also given him a drive to spot a good opportunity and was put to use when he began his time as a politician as a staunch Labour man.

He also said it was Coun Watson’s loved ones who provided him with so much joy, stating: “Family was absolutely at the heart of everything Paul did,” adding he knew jobs provided the stability and success for people with their own families.

The eulogy was given by Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, who spoke of Coun Watson’s role in fighting the North East’s corner in ensuring it got the best agreements and funding at every opportunity.

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.
Sunderland AFC legend Jimmy Montgomery BEM and Sunderland AFC Kevin Ball

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson. Sunderland AFC legend Jimmy Montgomery BEM and Sunderland AFC Kevin Ball

He said: “Paul was at the heart of Sunderland and Sunderland was in his heart.”

Council chief executive Irene Lucas took one of the scripture reading during the ceremony.

A collection was held at the close of the service in aid of Sunderland Royal Hospital’s renal unit and its Phoenix Ward, which offers haematology services.

The congregation created a guard of honour for the politician as his coffin left the church for a cremation.

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.

The funeral was followed by a gathering at the Stadium of Light.

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson.
 DJ Lauren Laverne

Funeral of Sunderland City leader Coun Paul Watson. DJ Lauren Laverne