Tears and tributes for the unforgettable Leila Roy
Former Tory leader Gio Spinella delivers touching tribute at full council meeting
05 March, 2021 — By Richard Osley
Former Conservative councillor Leila Roy [Linda Grove]
SHOCK and grief has met the death of a community campaigner who died suddenly on Friday evening aged 39. Leila Roy had been the first black woman to represent the Conservatives at the Town Hall during a four-year spell.
Beyond party politics, she was known as a neighbourhood activist in Gospel Oak and Belsize Park who campaigned for more school places, council home repairs and protection for independent shops against big supermarket chains. She passed away from a heart condition which she had been aware of, but refused to let hold her back.
Tributes have rung out from all quarters of the Town Hall chamber – and on Monday, the former leader of the Conservatives, Councillor Gio Spinella, delivered a touching tribute to his friend at an all-member meeting.
His voice cracking with emotion, he talked about how he had helped recruit her to the Tories despite her reputation for being a “lefty” – she had previously been a member of the Labour Party.
He said: “I realised she was much more of a natural Conservative than most people, herself included, realised.”
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Cllr Spinella said she had “buckled over” during one of their first meetings and this, it was later revealed, was what he called her “scourge” – her heart problem.
He did not gloss over her stubborn nature and joked: “She would never take no for an answer. I have bruises to prove she could be fiery. I always thought you can’t really call yourself a friend of Leila if you haven’t sworn never to speak to her again at least once a year.”
He added: “Council officers labelled her a ‘vexatious complainer’ and that for her was a badge of honour. She wore it with pride. I can only imagine what those officers thought when they finally saw her as a councillor in Camden.”
Ms Roy represented the Belsize ward from 2014 to 2018, before losing her seat by just nine votes in a territory split politically with the Liberal Democrats. She blamed Brexit for that result.
Ms Roy was born in France – her father was a diplomat in Benin – but had come to England to study journalism and decided to stay, bringing up her son, Anton, in Gospel Oak.
He is now 16 and excelling at his studies after a childhood in which he would often be seen by his mother’s side at rallies, manifesto launches and council meetings.
After her time at the Town Hall, she had roles within the Conservative Party, working on democracy projects in Africa. She also worked on an education scheme to help children who had fallen behind due to the Covid lockdowns.
“She was a person of compassion, of empathy, of fierce civic solidarity,” said Cllr Spinella. “She was impossible to ignore. She was loud, boisterous, able to strike a conversation with anyone; total strangers would tell her their life stories five minutes after they met her.”
Gio Spinella and Leila Roy together on the campaign trail
Ms Roy had been one of the councillors who worked through the night to help residents the evacuated Chalcots estate in 2017.
Hasan Shah, chair of the Burnham block’s resident association, said she “was an amazing, caring person who helped Chalcots residents and her entire community”, adding: “Leila will be greatly missed and her warmth, kindness and gentle spirit will be in our hearts and memories.”
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq said: “Leila had been passionate about making a change. Our community always needs more people like her.”
Her friend, Linda Grove, who is organising a memorial garden in Haverstock Hill, said: “She helped an awful lot of folk out of bad situations.” At Monday’s meeting, representatives from the other parties all added their condolences and tributes before, instead of a minute’s silence, members clapped in her memory. Recalling the evacuation of the Chalcots,
Labour’s deputy council leader Cllr Pat Callaghan said: “I actually said to Leila, you must be cloned. She was there late at night and first thing every morning like a tiger looking after those in her care. Residents came first.”
Lib Dem councillor Tom Simon said Camden had been robbed of a “committed and very genuine champion”, and recalled her work on the campaign to set up the Abacus Belsize Primary School.
And Green councillor Sian Berry said: “She was always full of energy – we’d often end up disagreeing about something like tax but she’d have the greatest humour in telling you that you were wrong.”