THE Benarty community was saddened yesterday when news spread of the death of Willie Clarke, the man who was councillor for Ballingry for over 40 years.

Willie was first elected in 1973 to Fife County Council and then went on to serve on Fife Regional Council and Fife Council, and also be the first chair of Cowdenbeath Area Committee, which was set up in 2007. He chaired the body which looked after such things as roads, education and police and fire cover for the area for nine years before taking the decision to step down in 2016 on health grounds.

Such was his influence on everything Benarty, the new visitor centre at Lochore Meadows Country Park was called after him.

The Area Committee was meeting yesterday afternoon when councillors were told of Willie's passing. He had been seriously ill for several months.

Committee convener, Councillor Linda Erskine, said: "Willie was someone who served his community all of his life.

"He was such an amazing man and worked so hard for the Benarty area from the moment he was elected back in 1973. Ballingry, Lochore, Crosshill and Glencraig has lost someone who was proud to represent them over a period of four decades."

Vice chair, Councillor Rosemary Liewald commented: "Willie's encouragement for new councillors was immense.

"He made people feel at ease immediately and you never heard him complaining, he was such a solid figure."

Benarty councillors, Lea McLelland and Mary Lockhart, were deeply saddened to hear of the news and both said that Willie's death was, a 'very deep loss for the Benarty community.'

Cowdenbeath MSP Annabelle Ewing said: “I was very sad to hear the news that Willie died today. He was a most inspirational man and an indomitable fighter for his community, something he did right up until the end of his life.

“I was privileged, as MSP for Cowdenbeath Constituency, to work with Willie on a number of local campaigns recently including his remarkable campaign, along with his co- activist, Brian Menzies, on the recognition of the correct boundary for Glencraig.

“This was not a campaign based on administrative lines on a map, but a deep respect for the history of a place and the generations who had lived and worked there. Those same principles were also at the heart of his passionate desire to retain elements of Fife’s coal mining history and heritage in our public spaces and thus in the public consciousness.

“Willie was a one-off, larger than life character, and will be hugely missed by his beloved community of Benarty and I offer sincere condolences to Willie’s wife and family.”

Ms Ewing has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament acknowledging the death of Willie Clarke and celebrating his remarkable life of commitment to the community of which he was a part: "That Parliament notes the passing of Willie Clarke, the last Communist councillor in the UK; further notes his background in mining, his deep involvement in his local community of Benarty and his well-deserved reputation for being someone who could get things done; acknowledges his hard work and dedication over many decades that saw him awarded the Freedom of Fife in 2016, the highest honour available to Fife Council; believes that he has been a true pillar of the community and will be sorely missed by all who knew him".