This article has been copied from the Herald Express Web site.

Tributes have been paid to Torbay's ' Mother Teresa for young people' Mary Cunliffe, who died suddenly at the age of 81.

The tireless volunteer, who was on countless action groups and committees, has been described as inspirational for her fighting spirit and determination to improve the lives of others.

Mary was a leading light for sport in the Bay as the treasurer of Torbay Sports Council and she played a key part in the resort's bid to become an Olympic training camp.

Sue Cheriton, assistant director for cultural services, at Torbay Council, had been planning to nominate her for an OBE next year.

Chairman of the sports council Roger Mann described Mary as the cannon fired by the organisation if they wanted something done.

He said: "She was a great campaigner. Although she was passionate in what she said and did, I never heard anyone who didn't respect and like her. Mary was thoroughly a lovely person. She committed her life to young people and had a real desire to help them.

"She was almost like a Mother Teresa for young people. She's going to be greatly missed because she was such an iconic figure."

Essex-born Mary worked part-time as a youth leader after having five children - Rick, Chris, Jan, David and Lindsey.

With husband Dennis, the family moved to Torbay in 1973 so she could take up a full-time role at the Acorn Centre in Barton, where she was instrumental in getting their sports hall built in the late 1980s.

She worked there until she retired and had been active on countless committees ever since, including the Cultural Partnership, Paignton Youth Forum, Goodrington Action Group, Torbay Olympic Gymnastics Club, Cary Park Tennis Club and Torbay's Older People's Forum. Mary also ran the Meran House guest house in Teignmouth with Dennis, who died in 1997.

She then moved to Roundham Road, Paignton, where she lived in an apartment below her son Lindsey's home.

He said: "She was a remarkable woman. Mum just wasn't ill, she didn't have time to be ill. She went to meetings two or three times a week.

"She was fighting fit until the very end, when she suffered a heart attack. It was very sudden."

It was Mary's passion to make sure young people had their voices heard and, even though she was in her 80's, she was never afraid to approach groups of youngsters and ask why they were hanging around.

Catherine Williams, Torbay Council's community and sports officer, said: "Mary was a leading light in sport for Torbay and an inspiration to youth work. She touched many people and improved many people's lives.

"On a personal note, she has taught me so much about life, youth and sport. I will carry these lessons through my life with me and never forget Mary and all she fought for."

Catherine described Mary's love for Young's Park, where she had been part-way through a project to re-instate the wishing well, which had been long forgotten.

Goodrington Action Group has pledged to continue the project in Mary's memory and a collection at her funeral will go towards this.

Liz Wimbleton, chairman of Torbay Olympic Gymnastics Club, where Mary had been secretary since 1999, says it was only a few weeks ago that, as their oldest member, Mary became the last person to take part in their 25-hour trampoline marathon.

Liz, who was employed by Mary as a sports leader at the Acorn Centre in 1984, said: "During all the years she relentlessly campaigned for what she believed in, trying to encourage and enable children to participate in sport."

Mary's funeral is taking place on Friday at 10.45 am, in Marldon Church followed by a gathering at the Esplanade Hotel in Paignton from 12 PM.

Mary Cunliffe

Torbay Olympic Gymnastics Club

Tel. 01803 317817