Hundreds gather for the final farewell to 'proud Prestonian' and former South Ribble Mayor Graham Walton

Hundreds turned out in the rain this morning to honour former South Ribble Mayor Graham Walton as he was laid to rest.

The funeral cortege travelled the short journey from Graham's home in Lostock Hall to Our Lady & St Gerard's RC Church, his place of worship for 40 years.

Hearse arrives at Our Lady & St Gerards RC Church in Lostock Hall for the funeral of Graham Walton

Hearse arrives at Our Lady & St Gerards RC Church in Lostock Hall for the funeral of Graham Walton

More than 400 friends, colleagues, community representatives and family members made their way in to the church to say their final goodbyes to the Conservative councillor of 12 years.

Dignitaries included South Ribble Mayor John Rainsbury, South Ribble Conservative Association chairman Michael Green and South Ribble Council's Conservative Group Leader Margaret Smith. Political opponents were also present including Labour councillor and former South Ribble mayor Matthew Tomlinson.

Graham died on Thursday, April 25, aged 74 while campaigning for the May 2 local elections in which he was standing for re-election in Farington West.

Tributes flooded in to the father-of-three, with Ribble Valley MP and friend Nigel Evans describing him as a "true fighter" who was "utterly committed to local politics in South Ribble".

Graham Walton with wife Karen Walton during their year as Mayor and Mayoress of South Ribble

Graham Walton with wife Karen Walton during their year as Mayor and Mayoress of South Ribble

This morning Father Joseph Gee welcomed mourners to the requiem mass for Graham, saying: "My sympathies and prayers to Graham's family, his wife Karen, his children, and to Graham's sister Sheila, and the rest of the family and friends."

Fr Gee said Graham "lived his life in service of others" and dedicated his life "to his wife, and then his children, and also in the wider community where he was an active member of this parish for the last 40 years", as well as in his more recent political career.

Fr Gee added: "[It was] a life lived with the service of others at the centre."

Sons Brett and David paid tribute to their dad, who they described as a "proud Prestonian" and "a charismatic larger than life gent".

Funeral cortege arriving at Our Lady & St Gerards RC Church in Lostock Hall for the funeral of Graham Walton

Funeral cortege arriving at Our Lady & St Gerards RC Church in Lostock Hall for the funeral of Graham Walton

"Dad was a charismatic, larger than life gent who lived life to the full...a proud Prestonian," Brett said.

Graham grew up in the Deepdale area of Preston before studying at Harris Technical College, where he achieved the coveted accolade of Head Boy.

A keen sportsman, Graham was an accomplished footballer and boxer, signing for Preston North End at the age of 14 and becoming the British Welterweight Sea Cadet Champion at the Royal Albert Hall in 1961.

Following an injury which ended his sporting career, Graham began his working life as an apprentice mechanical engineer with English Electrical, a career which took him around the world – with long stints in Canada and America.

Graham during his mayoral year

Graham during his mayoral year

Graham and his wife Karen, a fellow councillor in Farington West, were married in August 1979, moving to the borough and starting a family in 1981 where they had three children; Brett, Faye and David.

David said he "used to love listening to his stories", highlighting his days at North End, adding: "He always said he should have done his coaching badges to go into managing...there's no doubt he would have been a success."

"In the end," David added, "Dad always said his greatest achievement was his family, often calling himself the richest man around.

"He was always generous with what he could give, most often with his time."

As Mayor of South Ribble, Brett said dad Graham "took great pride in meeting different people in the community", working to serve the community, supporting St Catherine’s Hospice, the North West Air Ambulance and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in particular.

Arm in arm with his brother, David ended by saying: "The turnout today is testament to the lives he touched along the way.

"We will always have the memories of what a great man he was.

"Rest in peace."

The service ended with a recital of Jerusalem before Graham was laid to rest in the churchyard surrounded by loved ones.

Donations in memory of Graham Walton can be made to St Catherine's Hospice or Derian House, c/o the family.