A former leader of Dorset County Council credited with introducing party politics to North Dorset District Council has died, age 86, at Westminster Memorial Hospital in Shaftesbury after a long illness, writes Richard Thomas.
Dr Geoffrey Tapper was a Shaftesbury GP for 30 years until he turned to full-time politics on his retirement in 1988, becoming leader of the Liberal Democrats at both NDDC and DCC where he was leader of the council from 1990 to 2001.
Before his arrival, NDDC was composed of nominal independents who did not wear a party label, even though many were in fact paid-up members of the Conservative party to which he had briefly belonged.
He began his political life at Shaftesbury Town Council in the 1970s and was mayor in 1974 during the last major reorganisation of local government that saw the demise of the old Shaftesbury Borough Council.
Dr Tapper is said to have been so incensed by the changes, that saw many of the town’s assets forcibly handed over to the newly-created NDDC, that he allegedly organised the burning of many of the town’s historic deeds and documents in a ceremonial bonfire on Park Walk to prevent them going to Blandford.
As well as being a devout Methodist, Dr Geoffrey Tapper was the driving force behind the creation of The Cedars and Castle Hill House as two of Shaftesbury’s main care homes through the setting up of the Shaftesbury Community Health Association in the 1980s. He became life president in 2016.
Chair of trustees Sara Jacson said: ‘Geoffrey was a visionary with determination. He loved the elderly of Shaftesbury and considered that a discrete service for them was vital. Working with others from the Christian Council, he established The Cedars and Castle Hill House for the care of frail and elderly local people.’
Dr Tapper, who is survived by his wife Philippa and their four sons, Henry, Rupert, Gregory and Albert, is to be remembered at a special memorial service on 9 April at Bell Street United Church, Shaftesbury, where he was a lay preacher for 40 years.
Writing five years ago, his eldest son Henry records: My father was born in 1932 in London to an Irish mother married to a Methodist minister some 20 years her senior.
He qualified as a GP in the late 1950s, during which time he played rugby for Middlesex, before joining a medical practice in Shaftesbury, near where his father’s family had been North Dorset farmers, and where he lived for the rest of his life.
He married Phillipa and between them they had four boys educated first at Port Regis and then at Bryanston schools.
He retired from general practice on health grounds in 1988 and two years later became leader of Dorset County Council, a position he held until 2001.
After retiring from politics, his main hobby was writing poems for competitions in The Oldie and The Spectator magazines and soliciting readership for his translation of the Acts of the Apostles into blank verse. He was also a devotee of ‘The Archers’ on BBC Radio 4.
Councillor Derek Beer, Dorset County Councillor for Shaftesbury: ‘Geoffrey Tapper served the people of North Dorset for most of his life, as a local GP, town councillor and former mayor, district councillor, county councillor and Liberal parliamentary candidate for North Dorset.
‘He was highly respected by all those who knew him, always calm, and polite, but thoroughly persuasive in debate.
‘Totally immersed in local life, he was a key person in the development of Castle Hill House and The Cedars projects in Shaftesbury, in church life, Nordcat, and many other charities and organisations which benefited the frail and elderly.
‘He was such an influence on my life that it will feel to me, I am sure, that he is still with us for many years to come.
‘The quality of life has been improved for so many local people by the hard work and determination of Geoffrey, and his legacy will remain with us for decades ahead. We all have so much to thank him for.’