Former Banbury Guardian editor Paul Bithell died on Christmas Eve after a three-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. He was 44.
Bithell arrived in the town just seven years ago, yet his devotion to his role not just as an accomplished journalist, but as a community leader and friend, has left a legacy that will be felt for years to come.
Professional, honest, tough, caring, original and fun are all words those who knew him would associate with him.
It was the way he faced up to his illness, however, that was to provide others with the greatest inspiration.
As a boss and editor, Bithell was charismatic, ambitious, hard-working, exacting, encouraging, fair, generous and inspirational. He led by example. Reporters were encouraged never to settle for a mediocre story when a fascinating and informative piece lay underneath.
Within his first nine months at the Banbury Guardian, it had won the national Emap Newspaper of the Year award, beating entries from the company’s 2,000 other titles across the country.
His papers were bright, exciting, newsy and boldly presented, and sales rose.
In 1997, Bithell was made editor-in-chief of the Bucks Herald and Bucks Advertiser in Aylesbury. More accolades followed. The Herald was named UK Weekly Newspaper of the Year by the Newspaper Society in 2000.
He was training to take part in the Banbury Triathlon when his illness first struck in 1999. A brain tumour was eventually diagnosed.
Driven by his journalistic instinct, Bithell was compelled to write about what subsequently happened to him – what he called the rollercoaster ride of experiences following that fateful day.
His last piece appeared in the Banbury Guardian in May, when he described how lucky he felt he had been. After an early prognosis gave him just months to live, three years had passed.
A succession of major operations and debilitating treatments did nothing to dampen Bithell’s zest for life, his family and his work. He went back to his job in Aylesbury briefly, then last year he returned to the Banbury Guardian as associate editor.
He refused to give up his commitments in the town despite the long hours back in the newsroom.
He continued his work for charity and became a driving force to help the Guardian complete the last leg of its £80,000 appeal to fund a new Macmillan nurse for the Banbury area.
It was to be the final chapter in what had been an outstanding career in local newspapers. In 1979 he joined the Daventry Weekly Express, moving to the Rugby Advertiser as news editor and clinching his first editorship at the South Wales Guardian in 1986.
In 1989 the challenge of a large regional daily, the Portsmouth News, beckoned. He was soon promoted from assistant news editor to features editor, but in 1995 he was tempted back to weekly papers by the editorship at Banbury.
Bithell leaves a wife, Nikki, and teenage children Emily and Tom.