TRIBUTE has been paid to the ‘Mr Arts’ of Tavistock after his death from a heart condition.

Chris Burchell, 81, was renowned for his pioneering work promoting arts in the area.

He was working as a volunteer in charge of the art collections at Tavistock Wharf theatre and arts centre right up the last days of his life. He had been booked in for keyhole surgery on his heart just a few days before he died.

His widow Yvonne, of Milton Abbot, who he had been married to for 62 years, said: ‘There’s a huge hole in my life now because Chris was such an energetic and active person. The same applies to his community work. He was so active in promoting the arts in the area and had a big influence on opening up people’s access and minds to art. I’ll just have to be extra busy to compensate now, but I don’t know who will fill his shoes in the various organisations in the area.’

Chris trained as a painter at art school in Ealing School of Art, while Yvonne was a trained illustrator and they met at art school: ‘It took a whole year of him trying to persuade me to go out with him, after all, there were plenty of other attractions in London during the Swinging Sixties in London for a young female art student! We were very different, however, for instance, he loved classical music and I preferred the jazz of the time. But we fell in love and married in 1961.’

Chris, who was partly brought up in Kuwait, trained as an art teacher in Bournemouth, with his first job in Buckingham. With two young daughters they went to live in on the side of Mount Kenya, in Kenya, where Chris was head of design at a teacher training college. Back in the UK in the 1970s, they helped at a school for people with sight issues. Chris gained a Masters qualification to run a teacher training college, again in Kenya, invited by the Kenyan president. But UK funders pulled the plug.

Chris and Yvonne then bought their Milton Abbott cottage, to be near his parents, and because Yvonne wanted some ‘open spaces’ to replicate Kenya. Chris worked in West London and Yvonne worked in the former Endsleigh Hotel. Jobs as head of art at Leicester and Kings Tamerton in Plymouth followed for Chris.

In their spare time they continued their art while he joined Tavistock Group of Artists and was involved in art collection exchanges as part of Tavistock Twinning Association in Germany and France. He then ran the Wharf art gallery.

Chris also wrote and illustrated children’s books to teach English in Kenya and anthologies of his poetry. The couple had three daughters, one of whom has learning difficulties. To improve care of people with mental health issues Chris wrote the basis of a Government White Paper adopted by the NHS, was involved in the charity called Head Count and designed a mental health passport.