Sue Forster, who served as Mayoress from 1989 to 1990, passed away earlier this month, aged 66, after losing her battle with cancer.
As a lifelong trade union activist who served on UNISON’s National Executive Council for more than 20 years, she represented thousands of workers both in South Tyneside and across the UK.
Following news of her death, tributes have poured in remembering Sue’s tireless battle for equality, fairness and social justice.
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As Mayoress, she devoted her time to raising money to buy state-of-the-art medical equipment for South Tyneside Hospital and even organised a sell-out rock concert at Temple Park.
Tributes have credited Sue’s qualities as a mentor, confidant and inspiration to others, often taking people under her wing and giving them the confidence and support they needed to achieve their goals.
Some of those she helped became senior managers, while others became activists or politicians.
Beacon and Bents ward councillor Angela Hamilton, who was one of the people Sue mentored, remembered her honesty and integrity and for “never turning away anyone who needed her help.”
“I lost the best friend anyone could have wished to have,” Cllr Hamilton said.
“Sue was my friend, my mentor and my inspiration.
" I’m honoured to have been there with her family at the end and will never forget this most wonderful woman.
“Sue was the very best of us and she will live forever in the hearts of all those who knew and loved her.”
Sue spent the last few years working for South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.
Despite being told in July that she had cancer, Sue continued to help others including campaigning for disabled people’s rights and supporting young people to become politically active.
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said: “South Shields has lost a very special person, my beautiful friend and team member Sue Forster.
“We are all heartbroken. She was our friend and confidant and kept us all laughing when things were tough. I am praying for the pain her family and many other friends are feeling.
“There are countless people Sue helped in this town, both in her trade union and in our office.
“So many people are in a better place because of Sue. Every single day she fought like a tiger with the heart and courage of a lion.
“I will miss you so very much. Sleep well lovely Sue.”
Local businessman Stephen Sullivan added: “I’m gutted to hear of the passing of the utterly incredible human that is Sue Forster.
“I adored her humour and compassion. Her zest and sharp cutting wit. I also loved the things she did to help me in private through some rough times.
“The phone calls giving me a stern word, a kick up the backside and a warm loving feeling all at the same time.”
Sue was involved in major trade union campaigns and activities, including the introduction of a minimum wage, and volunteered for a number of charities.
During her time as Mayoress, she raised more than £10,000 through her charity fund.
At the most recent full meeting of South Tyneside Council in October, the Mayor of South Tyneside, councillor Pat Hay, also paid tribute.
Cllr Hay said: “It’s my sad duty to inform members of the death of a former Mayoress, Sue Forster.
“Sue was the Mayoress of the borough during 1989 and 1990 and many staff and colleagues will know Sue as she worked so closely with the council workforce over many years in her capacity as a UNISON trade union representative.
“I know many of us were personal friends of Sue and our thoughts and our prayers are with her family at this difficult time.”
Sue passed away on Friday, October 15 at her home in South Shields, leaving partner Alan, sons Andrew and Christopher and grandchildren Harrison, Grace and Freya.
Andrew Forster, speaking on behalf of the family, has encouraged people to pay their respects at Sue’s funeral next week.
“The funeral of our wonderful mam will take place at 2pm on Monday November 1 at South Shields Crematorium followed by food, drinks and music at the Hedworth Hall,” he said.
“We hope all those who loved and cared about our mam will be able to join to celebrate her life.
“Please wear whatever clothing you are comfortable in, as bright or casual as you like, as this was always important to mam.
“Family flowers only but donations to Macmillan in memory of mam can be made at https://tributefunds.macmillan.org.uk/In-Memory/Sue-Forster.”