Colleagues from across Greenwich Council are mourning the death of Christine Grice, the cabinet member for finance, after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stomach cancer.
Grice, 68, who had represented the Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward for Labour since 2014, was an enormously popular figure in the town hall. She was presented with flowers at January’s council meeting to mark her being given the all-clear after 18 months of treatment for breast cancer.
However, she fell ill again two weeks ago and was readmitted to hospital. She died earlier this week in the Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice.
Her Labour colleagues had elected her deputy leader of their group and of the council last month. She had been due to take up the position in May, but Grice was made deputy leader last Monday after council leader Danny Thorpe, deputy leader David Gardner and chief whip Angela Cornforth agreed to invoke a rule in the council’s constitution to bring forward Grice’s appointment.
A former council officer in neighbouring Lewisham’s children and young people’s division, Grice’s four years as the councillor in charge of the borough’s finances were praised by both parties in a town hall placed under pressure by government austerity. She implemented Conservative suggestions for funding council services – such as setting a dedicated fund for parks – as well as those from her own party.
Her appointment was the first time in many years that the council had handed control of its finances to a dedicated cabinet member. Past leaders had taken the post themselves, but when Thorpe was elected leader he gave the job to his close ally.
At January’s full council meeting, Thorpe gave Grice flowers to mark her recovery from breast cancer to applause from all councillors.
“I do’t think I’ve ever been so inspired by watching someone be so resilient, so brave and so courageous,” he said.
“She came to me a couple of weeks ago and said ‘good news, my treatment has finished, let’s talk about the medium term financial strategy,’ I said, ‘Christine, hang on… did you ring the bell?”,” Thorpe said.
She had not, and so she was also presented with a bell to ring in the council chamber. “You’re just amazing,” he told her.
“The one thing I would say to everyone watching this – do take up the screening opportunities the NHS provides,” Grice said. “I know I’ve been incredibly lucky and that’s because of the mammogram programme. I can’t recommend that enough.”
‘Force of nature’
Thorpe said today: “I am devasted. Christine was a force of nature and someone I’ve had the privilege of working alongside in her role as ward councillor for Kidbrooke with Hornfair, and also in her cabinet member role dedicated to finance and resources.
She was a champion of improving people’s lives and a champion for equality. Very early on after being elected as a councillor she worked tirelessly with Cllr Linda Bird to develop a fairness commission here in Greenwich.”
Greenwich has recently decided to take its poorest residents out of council tax, and Thorpe added: “Only a few weeks ago, Christine and myself met a number of residents who were affected by the introduction of Universal Credit and who were going to benefit from the introduction of this scheme. It was a very moving meeting and one that moved Christine very much, hearing so tangibly the difference this policy would be making. I can think of no better legacy for Christine than this moment.”
“Christine was being cared for at the Greenwich and Bexley Hospice and I would like to pay my respects to this incredible organisation. We are so fortunate to have them here in our borough,” he continued.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of Christine’s family at this sad time.”
The leader of the opposition, Conservative councillor Matt Hartley, said: “The whole council is devastated by this news. Christine achieved so much in her life and was a wonderful person. She was always thinking of others. It was a privilege to know her, and all of our thoughts are with Christine’s family at this difficult time.
“We at the town hall have lost a friend, and Greenwich has lost a dedicated public servant and community leader who never stopped working for our borough. Christine’s contribution will not be forgotten.”
Greenwich Council has asked that any donations in Grice’s memory be made to Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice.