Cabinet member stepping down due to ill health praised for ‘enthusiasm and kindness’

Debbie Kennard has stepped down as cabinet member for safer and stronger communities at West Sussex County Council
Debbie Kennard has stepped down as cabinet member for safer and stronger communities at West Sussex County Council

There was a standing ovation and a fair few tears at County Hall when ill health forced one of West Sussex County Council’s cabinet members to resign.

Debbie Kennard, in charge of the safer and stronger communities portfolio, had a lung transplant in 2015 and told her fellow councillors on Friday that she had since developed some serious health problems.

Struggling to speak at first, a tearful Mrs Kennard said she had ‘absolutely loved’ the role she has held for the past two years.

Lauding the work of the county libraries and the fire and rescue service, she said: “It’s been a great privilege to work with teams of amazing, dedicated staff. It’s been inspiring and I count myself truly blessed.”

She added: “It’s been an honour to see all the work you all do.”

Mrs Kennard dissolved into tears after explaining that she had to reduce her work load on the advice of her doctors.

A comforting arm and words of encouragement from leader Louise Goldsmith saw her regain her composure and tell colleagues that she planned to ‘get some rest and get well again’.

Chairman Janet Duncton said it had been an ‘honour and a pleasure’ to work with Mrs Kennard, adding: “You were nothing but kindness and hard-working. I know everybody in this council chamber wishes you the very best.”

There were supportive words from Lib Dem and Labour councillors as well.

Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) said that for Mrs Kennard to have carried out her challenging role over the past two years ‘must have been a considerable strain on her’.

He added: “I join in wishing her the best of health and a recovery to full health and we will all attempt to support her in that.”

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) told her: “No one’s ever doubted your good faith, your lack of cynicism.

“You’ve always been a strong advocate for the services that you’ve looked after. I can imagine that the duty has, at times, been a very heavy one.

“I’ve always enjoyed your company and your contribution. We wish you nothing but the best for the future.”

Mrs Goldsmith announced that Jacquie Russell (Con, East Grinstead South & Ashurst Wood) would take over as cabinet member, with immediate effect.

Praising Mrs Kennard’s ‘enthusiasm, kindness and her love of life and people’, she said: “It’s inspiring to us all. We need a bit more goodness in the world that you spread, Debbie. Thank you for spreading it.

“We will always remember the doughnuts at cabinet meetings.”