Tributes have been paid to the chairwoman of North Yorkshire County Council and a prominent member of the farming community after her sudden death.

Cllr Margaret Atkinson was appointed in May to serve as the last ever chair of the county council before it is replaced by a new unitary authority next year.

However, it was confirmed today that Cllr Atkinson, who had served on the county council for nine years and represented the Masham and Fountains division, had died suddenly.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader, Cllr Carl Les, said: “Margaret’s passing is such sad and tragic news, and a huge loss to not just the county council, but North Yorkshire as a whole.

“Margaret’s passion and drive for the county was second to none, and she embraced the role of the council’s chair with the verve and integrity that she became renowned for.

“She was very interested in all the people and groups she met, especially those in the rural communities we serve, as she came from those communities herself, and was a great champion of rural affairs.

“She was a prominent figure in the farming community, and helped so many through her time and caring attitude, including her fundraising work for charity.

“Margaret will be sadly missed by us all at the county council, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this very difficult time.”

Cllr Atkinson was a leading figure in the countryside, and was a semi-retired farmer and also the secretary of the Yorkshire and North-East branch of the British Charolais Cattle Society.

The Northern Farmer: North Yorkshire County Council’s chair, Cllr Margaret AtkinsonNorth Yorkshire County Council’s chair, Cllr Margaret Atkinson (Image: NYCC)

She was also a member of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s joint advisory committee.

Born into the well-known Stockil family, her grandparents had farmed at Kiplin and Brompton-on-Swale.

She grew up on a farm at North Stainley, near Ripon, with three older brothers and a younger sister.

Initially working in the accounts department at ICI Harrogate, she then attended agricultural college and set up her own agricultural secretarial business, providing services to farming communities across Yorkshire.

Through her charity work, Cllr Atkinson supported Cancer Research, the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and a farming charity, the Addington Fund.

Cllr Atkinson, who lived in Kirkby Malzeard, near Ripon, leaves behind her husband, Michael, and three children and five grandchildren.

The leader of the opposition on the county council, Cllr Bryn Griffiths, who is the leader of the Liberal Democrat and Liberal group, said: “Margaret was a lovely lady.

"She was always kind, courteous and extremely pleasant throughout the dealings I had with her. It is extremely sad news, and she will be missed a great deal.”

The leader of the Labour group, Cllr Steve Shaw-Wright, added: “With the sad and unexpected news of the passing of Margaret, I am confident that all councillors and staff will be thinking of her and her family at this time.

“Margaret was a very kind person, who always had a smile on her lips and a twinkle in her eyes.

"I have many fond memories of Margaret and I am sure her presence will be felt in and around the council for many years to come.”

The leader of the North Yorkshire Independents Group, Cllr Stuart Parsons, said: “Margaret was a kind, gentle, caring and inclusive person.

"At events, she was charm personified, and in council she was able to command respect from us all due to her openness.

“She will be greatly and sadly missed and I for one will miss her great smile.”

The leader for the Green group on the county council, Cllr Andy Brown, said: “Margaret was a dignified lady who was respected by all sides of the political spectrum. I am so sad to hear this news.”