TRIBUTES have been paid across the North East to Viscount Ridley who died last week.
Present council Chairman George Todd said: “Viscount Ridley has always been a pillar of strength and strong ambassador for the council, as well as Northumberland, and he will be sadly missed.
“Our commiserations and deepest sympathies are sent to his family and our thoughts will remain with them during this difficult time.
“The council will be flying the county flag at half-mast and will also be having a minute’s silence at the next council meeting as a mark of respect.”
Coun Glen Sanderson, of Longhorsley, said: “I think this was someone who was a figurehead for the county, someone who young people looked up to and his peers respected enormously.
“He was a gentleman without question, but also someone prepared to speak out for what was right.
“He was a distinguished leader of our community and for our residents and the county.”
The tribute was echoed by Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith.
“Lord Ridley was a stalwart champion of the county of Northumberland, which he loved, and a kind friend to all who came into contact with him,” he said.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said that while he knew Lord Ridley from his charity work and politics, he also counted him as a friend.
He said: “I knew Matthew Ridley very well and I respected him for the way he approached life.
“He has done a lot of good things in the communities of Northumberland and he was very well-liked, particularly in the south east of the county.
“He was very helpful with Northumberland Aged Miners’ Homes and when he agreed to become patron it meant a lot more people were willing to get involved.
“We had a £1million project to enhance the properties to improve the quality of life for lots of miners living in the homes and we raised about £1million with Matthew’s assistance.
“He did a terrific job in Northumberland, but most of all he was a very nice man.
“He had the ability to talk to people at the highest level, but equally talk to those on the shop floor.
“His memory will last forever because of the man he was.”
Viscount Ridley loved nature and the outdoors and became one of the Friends of Carlisle Park in Morpeth, providing trees and other donations.
He was also President of Northumberland Wildlife Trust for many years and set up Red Alert in the 1990s to support red squirrel conservation.
He published a book of his sketch paintings of birds, which was used by the trust last year to make greetings cards.
Chief Executive Mike Pratt said: “Even when he was very ill when I met him last month, he was still asking how he could help the trust, which says much about his personal commitment to charity work and to the environment he loved so much.
“I will always value personally the many escorted tours he gave me and colleagues around his tree collections, arboreta and to look for wildlife on his estate and other sites around Northumberland, and I will miss in particular his sense of fun and humour, which made every visit so enjoyable.
“Above all, he was a great wildlife and conservation ambassador and an accomplished naturalist in the tradition of those groundbreaking conservationists who set up the Wildlife Trusts 100 years ago.
“From first to last, wildlife was his passion.”
Lord Ridley, and his late wife Lady Anne, were keen supporters of the British Red Cross and every year would open up the Blagdon Estate for fund-raising garden events.
The next one is planned for Easter Sunday on April 8 and will go ahead in Lord Ridley’s memory.
In recent years, open events have also been held in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.
A spokeswoman for the charity said: “Lord Ridley very kindly supported Macmillan over the years by allowing us to hold wonderful events at Blagdon and enabling us to raise a great deal of money for local people affected by cancer. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”
Viscount Ridley was Chancellor of Newcastle University from 1989 to 1998.
Vice-Chancellor Prof Chris Brink said: “Lord Ridley served the university well during his tenure and his vision and aspirations are enduring.”