Leaders in Lewisham have been paying tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped end apartheid in South Africa, after his death at the age of 90.
A contemporary of Nelson Mandela, Tutu played a key role in overthrowing the racist policies that governed the country until 1991.
He trained as a theology teacher at Kings College London in the 1960s, and returned to Britain with his family in the early 1970s to take up a post at the Bromley-based Theological Education Fund of South Africa.
Tutu and his family lived on Brownhill Road in Catford, while he also became honorary curate of St Augustine’s Church in Grove Park. A message on the church’s website today called him an “inspirational and faithful servant of humankind”.
In 1990, he was given the freedom of the borough of Lewisham at a ceremony at Goldsmiths in New Cross, where he led dignitaries in dancing to the choir singing in his honour.
He opened a health centre at Lewisham Hospital in 2007, where he told ITV News about his “very happy years in Grove Park – we’re so glad that it’s part of our history”. He later returned to the area to open a peace garden in Chinbrook Meadows.
Six years later, he lent his support to the successful campaign to save casualty and maternity services at Lewisham, calling the government’s closure plans “scandalous”.
Lewisham’s deputy mayor, Brenda Dacres, said on Twitter that Tutu “was a man of great integrity who we will always remember because of the joy of humanity he shared. The world will miss this great man who allowed us all to feel we knew him because of what he shared of himself.” Damien Egan, the borough’s elected mayor, noted his “special connection” with the area.
Janet Daby, the MP for Lewisham East, called him “a remarkable man”. Her predecessor, Bridget Prentice, said: “Of course he should be remembered for his brilliant work against apartheid but he was also a former resident and great friend of Lewisham and to me personally. When he laughed – which he did often – you simply had to join in. RIP.”
The Revd Fr Paul Butler, the parish priest at St Paul’s in Deptford, said Tutu’s “influence played a big part in helping to discern my vocation to the priesthood in 1987”, and recalled the ceremony at Lewisham Hospital. “It rained heavily that day, May 21 2007, and what’d been planned as a mainly outdoor event became squeezed into the marquee. Tutu said words to the effect, “in this country you always complain about rain. Where I come from, rain is a blessing.”
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