'True gentleman’ of Walsall politics - due to become mayor next year - dies suddenly

Tributes have flooded in for a “dignified elder statesman” of Walsall politics who has died after suffering a heart attack.

Pleck councillor Harbans Sarohi
Pleck councillor Harbans Sarohi

Deputy mayor Harbans Singh Sarohi, who served the Pleck ward for more than 20 years after, died over the weekend.

Councillor Sarohi, who was in his early 80s, was first elected in May 2000 and successfully defended his seat on a number of occasions.

He was due to become Walsall Mayor next year and was only denied the honour this year due to the Covid-enforced postponement of elections in 2020. He would have been the borough’s first Sikh Mayor.

Walsall Labour leader Aftab Nawaz said: “We’re very shocked and really saddened at his passing. He was a very dignified person and really principled man.

“Very much of the old school who worked really hard as a councillor but wasn’t into telling the whole world what he had done or was doing.

“He was always honest and straightforward and thoughtful in his words and did a tremendous amount of service for the people of Alumwell, Birchills and Pleck and together with his ward colleagues to whom he was very close – Councillors Khizar Hussain and Naheed Gultasib. They worked really well as a team.

“He would have been Mayor if it wasn’t for Covid and that’s a terrible shame because he deserved it more than anyone really.

“He was an elder statesman for us and always there to give us advice and support in the group.

“He was a very proud, loving and caring family man and lived his life in a truly humanitarian way where he helped many people. He was a kind, sensitive human being.

“There was a humorous side to him that many people didn’t see. He was known to crack the odd joke.

“These days, politicians do less things and shout out a lot but he was from the generation that did a lot but didn’t make a fuss about it.”

Councillor Nawaz added: “He was always available for the people of Pleck. We always called him Uncle Harbans as did many people in that area.

“He had the ability to advise and mentor and every now and again tell us off. He is certainly someone we are going to miss.

“And whenever he disagreed with people or policies, he’d always do it in a dignified and polite way.

“There is so much we learned from him and still so much we could have learned from him with that dignity and the way he carried himself.

“Councillor Hussain and I will really miss him. He was very close to us and a mentor for us.”

Walsall South MP Valerie Vaz out campaigning with Pleck councillor Harbans Sarohi in 2018. Photo: Valerie Vaz.

Walsall South MP Valerie Vaz added: “I am shocked and saddened that Harbans Sarohi passed away last Saturday.

“Harbans was a good friend and a dedicated councillor. He was a true gentleman in politics. As Deputy Mayor of Walsall Harbans was excited about his role serving Walsall.

“He was an active participant in all our campaigns together in his beloved Pleck ward and served his ward exceptionally.

“His family and I will ensure his values and legacy lives on. My heart goes out to Manjit and his children and grandchildren at this sad time.”

Current Mayor Rose Burley said: “My thoughts are very much with Councillor Sarohi’s wife Manjit Kaur and his family at this very sad time.

“I have known Harbans for many years as a friend and as a fellow councillor. He was a true gentleman, always kind, polite and respectful.

“Harbans was very loyal and was one to call on to seek advice.

“It was an honour when I was elected as Mayor just two months ago and to have Harbans alongside me as Deputy Mayor. I will sadly miss him as will his constituents who he served for many, many years.”

Across the political divide, Tory council leader Mike Bird said: “Harbans was one of life’s gentlemen.

“I had great affection and respect for him and he always respected me. We had a great relationship.

“He was a very quiet man but very good patch councillor in Pleck, well respected, a very sad loss to this council and of course he would have been the first Sikh Mayor and sadly that has been denied him.

“Harbans was a great man and I shall miss him as a friend.”

And independent councillor Pete Smith added: “Harbans was a kind, quiet and humble man who was highly admired across the political spectrum of Walsall Council, within the Pleck ward which he represented and served for over 20 years and especially within his Sikh community.

“Harbans had a calm and respectful manner towards all those who he met and this respect was reciprocated. He will be sadly missed.”

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