THE great and the good from Oldham and Saddleworth came to pay respectful homage and praise a community champion described as a man of few words.

Civic leaders, officers and councillors joined dozens of locals at Derek Heffernan’s funeral at Holy Trinity Church, Waterhead, which, despite the weather, echoed to The Beatles' song “Here Comes the Sun.”

Derek, a former mayor of Oldham, was a former chair of Saddleworth Parish Council and carried the rare distinction of holding a community honour as mayor of Austerlands.

And it was in that capacity, against a background of recovering from a major operation, he is pictured proudly marching at the head of the first band to play the annual Whit Friday Brass Band contest at Scouthead last year.

Speaking at the funeral, Cllr Howard Sykes, Oldham Council's Liberal Democrat opposition leader, said: “He was my friend and a very loyal colleague. He undertook any job or role with enthusiasm.

“He also took on the role of elder statesman for me and my colleagues – a man of few words but he always spoke common sense and was listened to.

“It has been a great honour to be given the opportunity to place on record some of Derek’s civic achievements in his life today.”

Cllr Sykes said he met Derek in the 1980s, and was very pleased to get him elected in 1987.

“Derek’s interest in local politics began in 1982, and in 1987 he was elected to Saddleworth Parish Council for Springhead Higher Ward," he said.

“He served as cChair of the Parish Council in 1992-93, and again in 1999-2000 during the millennium year celebrations.

“In May, 1995, Derek was elected to Oldham Council to represent Saddleworth West Ward, which became Saddleworth North in 2004, and served the ward until May last year.”

The bearded councillor served on many key committees including education, environmental services, social services, standards, personnel, licensing, social services, finance, scrutiny and the Saddleworth and Lees District Executive, where his contributions were always valued.

He chaired the Oldham Learning Disability Partnership Board for seven years following its inception and served as Oldham’s representative on Greater Manchester Pension Fund Board and Greater Manchester Health Overview & Scrutiny.

He was a member of the Pennine Care Joint Overview and Scrutiny, and chaired the committee for a number of years. He also served on the Pennine Acute Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

And on the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority he led the Value for Money Challenge, and was the Chair of Audit Committee in 2011-12, overseeing major spending on new appliances. He subsequently became the Vice-Chair of Audit for thr organisation.

Cllr Sykes said: “Derek was a member of the Mayor’s Appeal Fund Committee for many years, which I know he particularly enjoyed.

“He became the Mayor of Oldham in 2016-17 and he took on a new role as Oldham Council’s first Champion for Peace – taking that message into local schools most emphatically and directly.

“He raised money for his mayoral charities, Francis House Children’s Hospice, Macmillan’s Cancer Support and others, and he attended numerous events and engagements to promote the role of first citizen of Oldham, and champion the great work undertaken by many in the Borough.

“He did this while dealing with some serious health challenges of his own, and of his wife, Di.

“It is tribute to the man that Derek carried on when many others would have thrown in the towel.

“He was so proud to be mayor, and did the office full credit despite the challenges he simultaneously faced.”

Cllr Sykes added: “Derek will be very sadly missed by friends and colleagues not only in the Liberal Democrats, but across both the councils he served on, amongst councillors of all parties, and officers he worked with, across several public service organisations.

"I recall he particularly enjoyed his time on the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority.

“Let us celebrate and remember those many achievements, done alongside many of us here today, but not without the perspective that Derek would want us to remember – that what he did made a positive difference for the people we serve collectively and together.”

Rev Dr Paul Monk led the service which was attended by Cllr Ginny Alexander, the current Mayor of Oldham and her consort husband Adrian, Cllr Sean Fielding, leader of Oldham Council and Carolyn Wilkins, the borough’s chief executive and councillors.