Always politically controversial but admired as an effective politician, former leader of Newbury District Council Paul Hannon has died.

“He was my soul mate,” said his wife Siobhan. “We both loved talking about politics and horses. We always used to have a glass a fizz when we went to the races. I shall raise a glass to him the next time I go, with fond memories.

“We had our first date at Newbury racecourse.

“We got married in Las Vegas the same year we met in 2009 and had the party at Newbury racecourse.”

“He was a proud Irishman,” his widow added. “He had a real passion for racing – and for the Nags Head.

“We moved to Newport in South Wales and he became elected on the city council there. Then we moved to Manobir where he was a community councillor. Then we moved to Fakenham in Norfolk where he was a town councillor. So he always found his way in to local politics.”

Born in Dublin to an Irish father and an English mother from Cornwall, Paul was brought up in the Croydon area. He was a Roman Catholic and went to Royal London Veterinary College but decided politics was more for him.

His love of animals maintained and he worked for both the Blue Cross and the RSPB.

He retained an interest in politics up until he died aged 70.

“He was pleased when Joe Biden won and couldn’t believe what was going on in British politics – particularly as a staunch European,” Siobhan said.

He was also a keen Arsenal supporter. Arsenal were top of the league when he was born – and when he died.

Respectful nods to his political prowess have been paid by former Newbury MP Richard Benyon – now in the Lords and a government environment minister.

“I was leader of the Tory group on Newbury district council and leader of the opposition when he was leader of the council and found him to be a very effective political operator,” he said.

“He and I would often go to the pub after a council meeting [The Dolphin] and resolve many issues over a pint of beer.”

But Paul fell out with his Lib Dem colleagues, and then jumped ship to Labour in the 1990s when he later stood, and lost, as the Labour Parliamentary candidate in 1997.

He had another falling out with his Labour colleagues when he’d moved on from Newbury to Newport in Wales, where he was also a city councillor.

“He was good at falling out with people,” joked Lord Benyon.

“He was a gifted politician and powerful speaker.

“He could be very combative but was totally straight and when he said something would happen it did.

“I enjoyed being able to work with him even though he was always a creature of the left. I was of the centre right. That didn’t stop us getting on.

“It taught me how to work across the floor, which I found very useful in coalition government.”

Paul’s first wife Sally Hannon, who died of breast cancer aged 52, was a Liberal Democrat councillor in Newbury, and in 1995 she was elected the town’s mayor. She was, as a colleague said, “a remarkably unstuffy mayor”.

She and Paul met at the Young Liberals and they married in 1980.

Sally was diagnosed with cancer just before Christmas 2005. The couple lost a little boy, Thomas as a baby, but went on to have two daughters Eilis and Holly.

Paul was a prominent campaigner for international development and for environmental and animal welfare causes, and lobbied at European level on behalf of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

“Paul was highly popular, using wit, empathy and diplomacy to achieve change,” added Prof Andrews.

Paul, who had been living with prostate cancer, is survived by Siobhan and by his two daughters and three grandchildren.

“His grandchildren were a such a great source of joy to him,” added Siobhan.

Funeral details are yet to be announced, but will take place in Lincoln where he and Siobhan had been living. Donations to the Marine Conservation Society.