Gritty council leader Paul Watson defied illness to serve Sunderland

Paul Watson.
Paul Watson.

Paul Watson will be a hard act to follow.

Not that there was any acting to be seen from the long-serving council leader.

What you saw was what you got with Paul . There were no tub-thumping fist-banging histrionics for the cameras when he took to the public stage.

Nor was he a career politician looking at the leadership as a stepping stone to bigger or better things.

Paul Watson was a Sunderland lad through and through and a man with his heart in city.

He was a huge advocate of Sunderland and, while he shunned any showy or sabre-rattling speeches, he never turned down an opportunity to sing the praises of the city. His gentle, honest delivery was not an act. He was as generous and gentle off camera as he was on it. That said, there was a steel beneath that gentle exterior. You don’t get to be, and stay, the leader of Sunderland City Council without a seam of real grit running through your personality.

Perhaps the strength of Paul’s character can be seen best in how he fought the condition that was to eventually take his life.

After being told he may only have months to live, he revealed to the Echo the full extent of his treatment and, within that frank interview, his determination to continue his work for the city.

“The nurses at the hospital have allowed me to keep working,” he said, and with typical understatement, added, “they have accommodated me and my erratic lifestyle unbelievably well.” That ‘erratic lifestyle’ was his juggling of many political demands, family commitments and a fight against cancer. He bore his illness with the same dignity he performed his civic duties.

Paul Watson will truly be a hard act to follow.