Tributes paid as beloved former Mayor dies - The Rugby Observer

Tributes paid as beloved former Mayor dies

Rugby Editorial 15th Jan, 2024 Updated: 16th Jan, 2024   0

HEARTFELT tributes have been made after a beloved former Mayor of Rugby died.

Dr James Masih Shera MBE, a Freeman of the Borough of Rugby, was visiting family in his native Pakistan when he passed away at the weekend. He was 76 and leaves a wife and son.

Dr Shera was Rugby’s longest-serving Councillor, having represented Benn Ward on Rugby Borough Council for 40 years before retiring in 2022. He was Leader of the Labour Group for nine years.

He made history in 1988 when he became the first Pakistani to be elected Mayor of Rugby, and the first Mayor in the West Midlands from a Black And Minority Ethnic background.

Four years later he became one of the first recipients of the prestigious Star of Pakistan, awarded by the president of Pakistan for services to community and interfaith relations. Last year, he was awarded the Hilal-e-Quaid-i-Azam by the President of Pakistan.

Dr Shera was made an MBE in 2007 for services to the NHS and communities, and a decade later was made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Rugby – the highest honour the borough council can bestow.

Born in a small rural village, Dr Shera’s journey towards playing a pivotal role in Rugby’s public life began when he secured a scholarship to study at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

He hitch-hiked through Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece and Yugoslavia before reaching Italy, where he caught a train to Belgium to start his studies.

Friends in the UK led Dr Shera to England in 1970 and a job at Rugby station as a railway guard. After completing a post-graduate degree at the University of Warwick, he became a teacher at Newbold Middle School, later joining the county council education department where he worked until taking retirement.

Dr Shera served as a school governor for 22 years, and as a governor of Warwickshire College. He was a prolific fundraiser for good causes, helping support a new state of the art FE college, the Myton Hospice, the Pakistani Community Centre, a mosque and a new cancer ward at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.

Dr Shera was a recipient of honorary degrees from three universities, and James Shera Way was named after him for his campaigns as chair of council of fellows of Warwickshire College.

In a joint statement, Rugby Borough Council group leaders Coun Derek Poole (Conservative), Coun Michael Moran (Labour) and Coun Jerry Roodhouse (Liberal Democrats) said: “James Shera, or Jim as we came to know him, was greatly respected by councillors on all sides of the chamber and was also a good friend and mentor to many of his council colleagues.

“Jim’s hard work and integrity were a constant throughout his 40 years of public service, and we’re all truly saddened to hear of his passing.

“Our thoughts remain firmly with Jim’s family and friends at this time.”

Coun Barbara Brown, Chair of Rugby and Bulkington Constituency Labour Party, said: “James was a true champion of community cohesion and a fierce advocate for those young people and families who needed extra support. His wisdom and kindness will be greatly missed.”

Mayor of Rugby and former Labour Group Leader Coun Maggie O’Rourke said: “I’ve known James for 38 years and he is the Godfather of my son John and a very dear friend.

“James was a very kind person and great unifying force for good. He cared deeply about the local residents he represented in Benn Ward. I feel privileged to call him a friend and my sympathy goes out to his wife and son at this very sad time.”

Benn Ward residents Patrick and Annabel Mulvany said: “From when our family moved to Rugby nearly 40 years ago, Jim always reached out to provide us with help, guidance and, above all, friendship.

“His selfless contributions to the people of Benn Ward, to interfaith harmony and our multicultural lives in Rugby and beyond, and to raising the profile of the need for peaceful coexistence and the fulfilment of human rights, will long be remembered by many with much gratitude. We will miss him greatly.”

Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Rugby, John Slinger, said: “James’s kindness, wisdom and dedication to working towards a better world shone through. He was truly a local, national and international statesman whose track record of selfless service to others, particularly the vulnerable, and of bringing people together, is an enduring legacy and an inspiration to all. He was my mentor and friend and I will miss him immensely.”

Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said: “James Masih Shera’s legacy is marked by a lifetime of selfless

dedication, distinguished leadership, and a profound impact on the communities he served.

“As we bid farewell, we remember a remarkable individual who made a lasting difference in the lives of many. May his soul rest in peace.”

Rugby Borough Council intends to fly the borough flag at half-mast on the day of Mr Shera’s funeral, a date for which has yet to be confirmed.

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