A popular and much-loved Birmingham councillor has died suddenly, aged 43.
The devastated family of Penny Holbrook, a lifelong Labour stalwart who represented Stockland Green in Erdington, confirmed their tragic loss, whose unexpected death has stunned fellow politicians and community leaders who she represented and supported through nearly two decades of public service, and a lifetime fighting to protect the most vulnerable.
She joined the council in May 2003, aged just 25, and has represented Stockland Green ever since. Her family said: "We are devastated to announce the death of our beloved Penny.
"As you will appreciate, this has come a huge shock to Penny's family, friends and loved ones. Penny was a much-loved daughter, aunt, sister, and friend who always found time to help others and she will be missed by so many people.
“We are heartbroken by this news. As her family, we ask that our privacy is respected at this very difficult time."
Birmingham council leader Councillor Ian Ward said: "This devastating news has come as such a shock to Penny's family, friends and colleagues at the council.
"Penny will be missed by so many people, not just in the Stockland Green community but across the whole city. She was a personal friend and a proud Brummie who loved her city and was committed to supporting and helping the most vulnerable, always putting the needs of others first.
"Penny will be deeply missed by everyone at Birmingham City Council, and by the people of her ward, who she held in such high regard. The thoughts of every member of the Birmingham Labour Group are with Penny’s family and friends at this very difficult time."
Erdington MP Jack Dromey and fellow Stockland Green councillor Josh Jones said they were distraught.
Mr Dromey said: "Penny was one of Birmingham's finest, a fierce champion of her beloved Erdington which she served so well.
"She worked for me in my constituency office and served with distinction as a councillor for Stockland Green. Local people loved her and there was no problem too big that she could not tackle to help them.
"The loss of Penny is absolutely tragic but her memory lives on. RIP dear Penny."
Her fellow Stockland Green councillor Josh Jones added: “The loss of a friend and comrade is always hard to take, but the loss Penny is a devastating blow to me as we were not just Ward colleagues but close friends who were there to support each other and have helped each other in our political and personal lives ever since.
"She was a great Councillor who achieved great things in Stockland Green, but more importantly was a wonderful person. She will be missed tremendously by the people of Stockland Green, her comrades in the Labour Party, but most of all by her friends and family.”
Penny was a former member of the city's cabinet leadership team and missed out on taking on the leadership by a single vote in 2015. She was praised then, and since, for her honesty, for championing the worst off.
She said then: “The council I lead will never, ever forget that you judge a society, not by those at the top, but by how it stands together with the most vulnerable." It was a mantra that shaped her political life. Her friend and colleague Cllr Majid Mahmood said: "I like everyone else am shocked and saddened with the news of the sudden death of our colleague and friend Penny.
"I have known Penny for more than 10 years, having first met her when she was delivering leaflets on my road after I was selected as the Labour Party candidate and we have remained good friends since. Penny was one of the most articulate and intelligent Councillors in the city.
"I spoke to her a few weeks back and she was telling me how pleased she was with securing extra funding into Stockland Green to tackle anti-social behaviour and how she was looking forward to working with new colleagues next year. We will all miss her.
“My thoughts and prayers are with her family."
Penny was recently leading a campaign for action on behalf of residents in Stockland Green over the concentration of exempt and HMO hostels in the area. This summer she helped secure £432,000 from the Government’s Safer Streets Fund to improve the area through a successful bid by Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.