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Becoming Mayor was destiny

It's almost as if it was destined that London-born Stephen Woodliffe should eventually settle in Boston and then become Mayor.

Before arriving here in 1988 to take up a new post as a mathematics teacher at the grammar school, Boston was, for Stephen and his wife Catharine, just a dot on a map near a line they had drawn across the country... literally.

The recently-married couple wanted to buy their first home and needed it to be affordable. The line they drew stretched from the Severn to The Wash. Anything below the line - the South - would be unaffordable. Boston was on the line, the job was there for the taking, and Catharine had found their ideal home in the town. It's the one in Chester Way where they still live.

Unbeknown to Stephen, a 100-year-old association with Boston was closing in. When his parents died in 2005 and 2006 and he was arranging their funeral services he discovered that other Woodliffes were already buried in Boston cemetery.

"I discovered that the Woodliffe family originated from Gainsborough in the 17th century and that some very distant relatives of our family name were buried in Boston's cemetery in the 19th century. So it appears that I have some tenuous historical links with Boston."

Stephen, who has a sister, Mary Jane, was born in 1950. His father, an East Ender, was a Desert Rat who had been badly wounded in the Second World War in the battle of Sidi Rezegh, near Tobruk in North Africa, in 1941. His father then spent years recuperating in South Africa where he underwent what, at that time, was experimental plastic surgery for burns. In total, his recovery took more than five years.

Coincidentally, another man involved in that theatre of war, and witness to injured coming off the battlefield, was later to become Stephen's uncle - brother to the woman from Brixton who lived through the Blitz that his father was yet to marry. In the last few years of his father's life, Stephen recorded details of his father's war service and that account is now held by the Imperial War Museum.

Stephen's father's work, as an accounts trouble shooter for a number of different companies, saw the family move about the country, with the final years of his schooling undertaken at the Rutlish Boys' Grammar School (former Prime Minister John Major's school) at Merton Park, in London, and then at Market Harborough Grammar School, in Leicestershire.

University beckoned and Stephen gained his mathematics degree at Leicester University - a time when he joined the Conservative Party.

Relaxing in the garden Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window


On leaving university, he went to work for Provident Life Association of London, then owned by the Profumo family, to train as an actuary. But the world of financial risk management was not for him, despite the promise of great financial reward and, after a year, he went to Southampton University to train as a mathematics teacher.

His first school was Guilsborough School, a comprehensive school in Northamptonshire, followed by Alderman Newton's School in Leicester and then Culford School, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Culford School is an independent HMC boarding school and during his time there, Stephen, as a boarding master, was rarely off duty.

His Christian faith has always played a central part in his life and, during this time at Culford, he corresponded with Catharine through a Christian pen-pal group. They arranged to meet at a treasure hunt in Cambridge, and Stephen proposed on their second date and eight months later they married. But there was a snag: Catharine was not allowed to stay in Stephen's flat at the school after they had married, and so for the final months of his contract at Culford, they were rarely able to be together.

After the marriage came the decision to move. A line was drawn, a pencil stabbed, and a new job and home in Boston found. Catharine gave up her flat and job in Cambridge where she was a legal secretary and on the day she came house hunting in Boston, she also knocked on the doors of all the town's solicitors and, before she returned, she had secured their new home and her new job at the then Jebb and Tunnard law firm.

Children followed. First Andrew, who in his final year at Skegness Grammar School won a place at Oxford University to read engineering, and, after graduating in 2012, is now married and living in Kuala Lumpur where he is a maths teacher; and, James, now 22, who is studying for an audio production degree at Lincoln University. With both children now enjoying adulthood, Catharine now works part time for the National Probation Service as a case administrator.

After 18 years at Boston Grammar School and time spent at Carre's Grammar School, Sleaford, and William Lovell Secondary Modern at Stickney, Stephen retired to spend more time in the garden and to catch up on his reading, or so he thought. However, in May 2011, he was elected as West Ward Councillor for Boston Borough Council, and was re-elected last May. Now he is Boston's 482nd Mayor, and his plans to spend time pottering in the garden remain on hold.

He said: "I continue to be amazed to have been elected twice, and with such large majorities, and now further amazed at being chosen to be Mayor of this wonderful borough of ours. My father would have been very proud to see me elected Mayor of Boston. He had been a Conservative Party district councillor in Market Harborough, in Leicestershire, in the 1970s, and then a town councillor in Downham Market, in Norfolk, in the 1980s."

The Foodbank and Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre are the Mayor's charities for the year, and hopefully the Mayoral year will enhance the celebrations at Blackfriars in its 50th anniversary this year.

Stephen said in his address to the council: "It is my intention to use this Mayoral year to promote those activities and charities that enhance the lives of our fellow citizens, and in particular, attempt to heal the rifts between the different communities that live here.

"We have a wonderful borough with an amazing history which we should be proud of, and which we should promote as much as possible. No one else is going to speak up for us, so it is up to us to win hearts and minds to look favourably upon our borough.

"If we are positive about ourselves and what we can contribute to our borough, then Boston will indeed be a better place to live and work."

Cllr Maureen Dennis is Deputy Mayor and Mrs Helen Staples, a former Boston Borough Councillor, is Deputy Mayoress.