Tributes to former Sunderland council leader and education chief

Bob Symonds, who spent five years as leader of Sunderland City Council and represented the Castle Ward as a councillor for 14 years.
Bob Symonds, who spent five years as leader of Sunderland City Council and represented the Castle Ward as a councillor for 14 years.

Tributes have been paid to an electrician who rose through the ranks of Sunderland City Council's Labour councillors to become its leader.

Bob Symonds, who has died aged 69, spent six years in the role from May 2002 to May 2008 and represented the Castle Ward from 1988 until 2010.

The former electrician and personnel manager oversaw a series of projects including the £20 million Sunderland Aquatic Centre, Building Schools for the Future programme and the signing of the Friendship Agreement between Sunderland and the U.S. capital, Washington DC during his leadership.

He also served as a school governor for many years before taking on a top role with a schools academy organisation, which runs a series of schools across the North East.

Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Michael Mordey, said: "Bob Symonds worked hard for our city as a councillor and as council leader between 2002 and 2008.

"He was proud to be a member of the Labour Party, well-known in the Castle ward and a popular figure with many, many people.

"He was a big advocate for our city and fought our corner regionally, nationally and internationally.

"Our deepest sympathies go to his family."

Sunderland Labour confirmed Mr Symonds died on Friday.

Sunderland Central's Labour MP Julie Elliott said: “I was very sad to learn of the passing of former Councillor Bob Symonds.

"Bob was a hard working local councillor, who led Sunderland City Council with distinction for many years.

"It was always clear that Sunderland was Bob’s number one priority, he cared deeply about our city and its residents.

"Most importantly Bob was a thoroughly decent man, and my thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

Bridget Phillipson, MP Houghton and Sunderland South, added: “I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Bob Symonds, who served our city with distinction as council leader.

"Bob was a thoroughly decent man who cared passionately about our community, and I pay tribute to the contribution he made as a dedicated public servant.

"He will be missed by all of us who came to know him, and my thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.”

Sharon Hodgson MP, for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “I was very sorry to hear of the passing of former Councillor Bob Symonds.

“Bob was a hardworking and dedicated local councillor and council leader, who cared deeply about everyone in his local community of Castle Ward and also everyone across Sunderland.

“I offer my deepest sympathy to his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Mr Symonds was challenged in his role as leader in May 2007 by his deputy Paul Watson and hung onto the post by just six votes.

A year later, he was voted out as leader when Mr Watson, who passed away in November 2017, succeeded in his bid to become leader.

Last June,Mr Symonds was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to education.

He had served as a company member and director WISE Academies, which leads a series of schools across the region including Hastings Hill Academy, Bexhill Academy and Town End Academy, from its foundation in March 2011 to his retirement in the role in the summer of 2017.

He had served as a school governor from the mid-1980s onwards, with the organisation stating his title was "a just reward for many years of voluntary public service" and praised his devotion to "a great deal of time and commitment to all of these roles".

Zoe Carr OBE, chief executive office of WISE Academies, today said: "It is with deep regret that we learned of the death of Bob Symonds, who was one of the founder members and chair of WISE Academies until August 31, 2017.

"Bob was also a long-standing governor of Bexhill and Hasting Hill Academies.

"Bob was such an important part of WISE Academies for so many years and we pay tribute to him for everything that he did to help support and develop the organisation.

"We will always remember Bob’s vision, passion and determination to succeed. Most of all we will always remember Bob’s commitment to promote the best interests of all the children throughout the Trust. It is this commitment to education that led to Bob receiving an O.B.E. last year.

"Everyone involved with WISE Academies owes a great debt of gratitude for everything that Bob did for the trust.

"On behalf of all involved in the trust, we offer our deepest condolences to Bob’s family."

At the time he was given his OBE honour, she said: “Robert Symonds has been 100% committed to the role of providing support to the education system of our region.

"Mr Symonds has given many years of distinguished public service and WISE Academies is proud that he was such a key part of our governance.

"We congratulate him on being appropriately recognised for his significant contribution to education and the communities of the North East of England.”