TRIBUTES have been paid to a former editor of the Tavistock Times Gareth Weekes who has died in an accident in the Caribbean.

Mr Weekes, who only retired last year after a long and respected career in journalism and public relations, was on a sailing holiday aboard a 150ft luxury yacht with his wife Alison when the tragedy happened two weeks ago.

He lived on the Blackdown Hills near Wellington, Somerset and was 77.

Mr Weekes was editor of the Tavistock Times in the late 1970s when it was owned by the Daily Mirror Group.

Sally Dodd was receptionist at the time. She said: ‘The Mirror group had a training scheme, the foremost one in the country, for university graduates and school leavers many of whom went onto be very successful journalists on Fleet Street, magazines and broadcasting.

‘Gareth was passionate about community newspapers and brilliant with the local people. Friday mornings would see a queue of correspondents and councillors all wanting to thank him for printing their piece, from Mrs Pascoe of Bere Alston to Chris Hunn of Gunnislake, he was liked and well respected and a lovely man.

‘He was instrumental in getting the Okehampton office launched as before that a trainee had to go up there and ferret away for stories!

‘Gareth was the trainee's first editor and was always patiently on hand to give support, advice and back up but on occasions not too organised occasionally leaving the front page behind when he went to Plymouth to put the paper to bed!

‘The best baby and carnival queen competitions were always very popular and Gareth had a way of sympathising with the losers who were often a bit irate! I am sure that those who knew him and worked with him will be sad to hear of his death.’

Journalist John Powell said: ‘I first met Gareth when I joined the Daily Mirror training scheme for journalists in 1968.

‘In those days the Mirror owned a group of local newspapers, including the Tavistock Times and the Plymouth-based Sunday Independent, the training scheme’s flagship.

‘I was transferred to work at the Independent’s district office in Truro and Gareth was the man in charge.

‘He was a brilliant boss, kind and helpful and taught me a lot about journalism. An example of his kindness was that he and his wife Diane, they had only recently married, offered to put me up in the house they were renting at Droskyn Point, Perranporth, for the several months that I worked in Truro — even though they were newly weds and probably would have been much happier starting their married life alone.

‘Gareth had a brilliant nose for a good news story and it’s fair to say that the Truro office under his eye provided many of the top stories for the Independent.’

Vic Gardener, a former journalist and one time acting editor of the Tavistock Times said he worked with Gareth for a relatively short period under the Daily Mirror ownership.

‘We then became competitors when I bought the title of the defunct Tavistock Gazette in 1977 and relaunched it.,’ he said. ‘The Daily Mirror eventually pulled out of the town.

‘Gareth was a very good editor and mentor and I had a great deal of respect for him.’

Gareth also trained one of the most informed writers on the Royal Family Andrew Morton.

‘Andrew Morton was also a Daily Mirror trainee and the Tavistock Times was his first newspaper,’ said Vic. ‘Gareth took a particular interest in Andrew. He was something of a live wire and I think Gareth saw him as a challenge.’

Retired Daily Mirror South West reporter Geoff Lakeman who lives in West Devon said: ‘Gareth was a brilliant journalist and very encouraging to all the young trainees, many of whom went onto top jobs in Fleet Street and elsewhere. A lovely man.’

Mr Weekes moved to Clayhidon in the Blackdown Hills 17 years ago and was a well-known and much respected figure in village life.

His career saw him edit the Salisbury Journal for seven years, and then the Bournemouth Daily Echo for nearly another seven years before he founded public relations firm Deep South Media Ltd in 1998.

He remained with Deep South for 25 years and was its managing director for 16 years and then chairman until retirement.

Other tributes having been coming in from far and wide: Renowned garden designer and author Jane Owen , winner of a Chelsea flower show gold medal,  and often seen on primetime TV and radio gardening programmes as well as writing for the Financial Times on money matters said: 'I was sorry and shocked to hear of Gareth's untimely death.  He was my first editor as a Mirror Group trainee and I couldn't have asked for a more thoughtful and gentle boss. We trainees were sometimes a handful but Gareth remained calm and sage when dealing with us .'

Assistant sports editor on the Daily Mirror Alan McKinlay said: 'I was a Mirror Group trainee journalist and Gareth was my first newspaper editor, on the Tavistock Times in 1979.'Gareth was a great enthusiast for local newspapers and I learned a lot from him. He always had an encouraging word and a sound piece of advice for all his trainees. While some regarded the annual influx of these young nuisances as something to tolerate, Gareth embraced his role as mentor wholeheartedly.'

He recalled a story: 'I used to play for Tavistock in the South Western League, so my match reports were from a somewhat unusual perspective.'Gareth once asked me to get a quote from the Tavistock manager at the time, Mike Symons, about what he had said in the dressing-room after a particularly galling defeat.' I obviously knew every word that Mike had uttered but when I called him his response was "No comment, Al".When I hesitantly reported back to Gareth, far from a rollocking for not "getting the story", Gareth just laughed, shook his head and said: "That's sport for you.".'There were plenty of local newspaper editors who would have taken that badly, but not Gareth. As I say, his style was encouragement not admonishment.

Lindsay Nicholson who received the MBE for services to journalism and was twice voted editor of the year whilst being editorial director of Good Housekeeping said: 'Gareth was an inspiration. Absolutely passionate about local newspapers. Taught me a lot. Lovely man .'

And Mary Richards, former editor of the Tavistock Times and Cornish Times, said: 'I worked with Gareth as his deputy editor on the Tavistock Times. He was a great inspiration to me with his respect, integrity and dedication to local news and newspapers and the contribution he knew they made to their communities. This he passed on to all the trainees who were part of the Mirror groups training scheme and who joined the paper as part of that scheme.   Above all he was a kind man, a great journalist, a good friend and a lovely family man who was so proud of his children.  'I was very sorry to hear the sad news of his death as I know so many others will be whose lives he touched.'