‘It has been truly magical’: outgoing Rugby mayor’s year to remember

Cllr Tony Gillias at the Christmas lights switch-on
Cllr Tony Gillias at the Christmas lights switch-on

In his own words, Cllr Tony Gillias, whose term as mayor of Rugby ended last week, looks back on his year in office...

It was when I was a 10 year old boy way back in March 1964, that the chairman of the old Rugby Rural District Council, Cllr T.F. Duffin came to Pailton to open our new village playing field. I stood about 3 metres away from him as he cut the ribbon. It would be a further 40 years before I would be that close to a chain of office again, when I became a councillor in 2004. Even then, I really didn’t think in terms of ever having an opportunity to becoming Mayor of Rugby. Indeed, life itself was difficult and testing enough at that time as a family break up was to follow. Somehow daily routine continued, with encouragement from my youngest daughter and then in 2011 I was given the chance to stand as Deputy Mayor. In 2012 came my first engagement at our village ‘fun day’. Whilst chatting to a group of young children I asked “ Why do you think I am wearing this chain?”. Little Johnny put up his hand and said “I know, I know. It is because you have been a naughty boy!” Of all the answers I was expecting, that was not one of them! Twelve months passed and the Annual Council gave me the chance to become Mayor of Rugby. In fact, I liked to think and did say on numerous occasions, that since 1974 when the old Urban District Council joined together with the old Rural District Council, to form the new Rugby Borough Council, that the Mayor then became the Mayor of the Borough of Rugby. So in order to be representative of the whole borough I would need to visit all of the borough, including all the urban areas and all 41 parishes. This may have been adequate, but I accepted the challenge to visit every village and hamlet as well, to my calculations there are 58 in total. The final village to visit was at Brandon and what better way than to visit Brandon Stadium and do a few laps of the track on a speedway bike on the 30th of May. It has been a wonderfully unique experience to have visited all corners of the borough. From Barnacle in the west to Clifton upon Dunsmore in the east and from Flecknoe in the south to the furthest house north at Stretton Baskerville. Sometimes this has been achieved by knocking on doors and being welcomed in for tea and cakes, to a rousing reception. To record these events a ‘Picture of the Borough’ was commissioned to depict all areas of the borough and now hangs in the link corridor to the council chamber.

As a long standing church bell ringer the challenge to ring a quarter peal on all the church bells in the Borough of Rugby was completed on the six bells at Shilton on the 16th of May, a grand total of 21 and thanks to all the ringers who helped me achieve this. I have also attended many church services from different cultures. At a Hindu service at Lawrence Sheriff School, I was told about a ‘Raksha Bandhan’ (protection band). This comprises of a woollen thread normally tied around the right wrist of a boy by his sister, to remind him to look after his sister for all time. During the service a young girl came over to me and asked if she could tie a band on my wrist. While she was tying it on she said, “This is to remind you to take care of all the people in the Borough of Rugby for ever ever.” What a responsibility! I have to say that meant a lot to me and even though it was a single thread of wool it remained on my wrist for the following 3 months until one day I looked and it had gone. I not sure if that relieves me of the responsibility though! But what a year, having been to 393 booked engagements, numerous non booked and having the pleasure to entertain over 60 group’s in the Mayor’s Parlour and Council Chamber. Visitors from all corners of the borough to Brazil and New Zealand, musicians, choristers, parish councillors, farmers, world champion sports personalities and sporting groups, charity groups, titled individuals and non titled individuals and every one treated with equal importance. To cutting my first ribbon at Papa John’s in Church Street, to parading with the Borough flag held high, into the Menin Gate at Ypres, in front of nearly 2000 onlookers, in remembrance to all our men from the Great War. Whilst visiting the Ypres Salient earlier in the day, the birds were singing, flowers were in bloom and everything was very peaceful. A member of our party walked a little way into a freshly cultivated field, close to a cemetery, bent down and picked up a bullet lying in the soil. Suddenly the reality of the great suffering and loss of life hit us and shiver went down the spine. What experiences, what wonderful people I have met. It has been so rewarding to have met so many people who work tirelessly for the needs of our communities and neighbourhoods. Which proves to me that we shall indeed be ultimately judged not by what we take out of life but what we put back in to it.

This past year has all been a most humbling experience to have been given the opportunity to meet so many of you in such limited time. To stop and talk for a while, to shake your hands, to catch your eye, to cast a smile or just wave from a distance. It has been truly,truly magical. Thank you.