HEARTFELT tributes have been paid to a “legendary” Colcestrian who served as the borough’s youngest mayor of the last century.

Richard Wheeler took his father’s wine business, Lay and Wheeler, from a shop in Culver Street West to a national name – trading and educating on wine to international customers.

His passion for Colchester was unparalleled, with his son Johnny Wheeler, who now runs an offshoot of the company Mr Wheeler Wine, describing him as “tenacious and hugely compassionate”.

Former Conservative councillor Richard died on Tuesday morning at the age of 87 after a struggle with cancer.

Johnny said: “His cancer was invasive, but he set himself a goal of making it to May, when he would have turned 88.

“It would also have been 50 years since he was made mayor of Colchester.

“He was hugely proud of his mayoralty and his service to Colchester Council over a significant part of his life, I had spoken to the mayoral office last night and am right in saying he is the borough’s longest serving alderman.”

He added: “He was very hard working and as children we didn’t see him much, he was always out working on his council duties, attending council meetings and he managed the cabinet for many years.”

Johnny recounted how his father made the back pages of national newspapers following Colchester United’s sensational 3-2 FA Cup win over league champions Leeds United in 1971.

“It was their best ever result,” he said.

“Leeds were the English champions, it was the great Leeds team.

“He said to the Sunday Express newspaper before the match ‘If Colchester win I’m going to invite all the players to lunch at Colchester Castle.

“He said that as a bit of joke, but they did win.

“The headlines the next day in the back pages were ‘Mayor gives lunch in Castle’ or along those lines.

“He followed through, his father funded that through the wine business and he thought he was mad and potty and was cross about it at the time.

“He did give the team lunch in the castle.”

Through running the family wine business, Richard Wheeler drew customers from far and wide.

One of his pride and joys was a wine centre he established in Gosbecks Road.

“It was a brilliant concept in the 80s and 90s,” said Johnny.

“It had a big, cellar dining room which could seat 100.

“He was all about the personal touch and things did change in the digital age – for people from that generation it was hard to understand.

“For him it was all about face to face and the telephone, but he embraced the changes.”

“He didn’t like the fact retail became much more difficult because buying wine at a distance become the more prominent method.

“People used to drive 50 miles to come to his shop.

“The wine market was and still is very competitive.

“You had to find your niche, ours was to only buy import wines from small family producers.

Richard leaves behind his wife of 64 years Mary, children Johnny, Sue, Sasha and Bridget and 12 grandchildren. His last message to Johnny’s son came during Richard’s two-week stay in St Helena Hospice.

Johnny added: “He had a great, dry, sense of humour and loved life. My grandson is 12 and when he visited him in the hospice he said ‘look, Benji, I have had a great life, its hard for you to understand, but I have to be grateful for it – when God calls me I will have to go.’”

Colchester High Steward and former Lib Dem MP Sir Bob Russell said: “Richard Wheeler was one of several business people who served on the council, generously giving of their time in the days when councillors did not get paid a penny in allowances and there were far more meetings than there are today.

“A successful businessman, he brought his business experience and acumen to the town hall for the furtherance and betterment of a town which he loved and which he served with great distinction.”

Richard was mayor when the Colchester Evening Gazette was launched in the autumn of 1970, and when Colchester United beat Leeds United in the FA Cup in 1971.

“Recalling this match, last year, was the last time I saw and chatted to Richard,” said Sir Bob.

“He was a really lovely man. A true Colcestrian. One of the greatest people I had the honour to serve with on the council.

“The interests of Colchester were always more important to him than party politics. There was much mutual respect.”

Richard also volunteered as a Magistrate for 25 years, overseeing criminal cases in Colchester.