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Week of mourning begins for iconic Knokke-Heist mayor

KNOKKE-HEIST, BELGIUM: Count Leopold Lippens, Mayor of Knokke-Heist, who died on Friday, February 19, 2021 at the age of 79. (BELGA PHOTO YVES BOUCAU)
09:32 22/02/2021

The Knokke-Heist municipal council has declared a week of mourning, until Saturday 27 February, in tribute to its mayor Leopold Lippens, who died on Friday. All flags in the commune are currently flying at half-mast and a minute's silence will be observed on Friday in several locations in the seaside town.

The minute’s silence will be observed on Friday at noon, when Count Lippens would meet with his councillors for the weekly meeting of the communal council. The municipal administration has invited all the inhabitants of Knokke to respect this minute of silence. At 12.01, the emergency services will sound all their sirens while the churches of the commune will ring their bells.

Condolence registers, including one online, have also been opened.

The death of Count Lippens at the age of 79 has been deeply felt in Knokke-Heist, where he was mayor for more than 40 years. He withdrew from active duty as mayor in November due to ongoing health problems which, a month later, were revealed by Lippens himself to be related to leukaemia.

"The loss of a figure as monumental as Count Leopold Lippens leaves not only the local council, but also all the inhabitants of Knokke-Heist and those who own a second residence there somewhat orphaned," the commune said in a statement.

The grandson of Maurice August Lippens, former governor-general of Congo and a parliamentary minister in several governments between the two wars, and the son of Léon Lippens, mayor of Knokke from 1947 to 1966, Count Leopold was born with politics in his blood. After a few years as the councillor responsible for public works, he became mayor of Knokke-Heist in 1979.

Since then, in every election, he has been re-elected. Lippens, while not immune to controversies that come as part and parcel of a long career in politics, was widely loved by the citizens of the commune of Knokke, an upscale seaside resort just a stone's throw from the Netherlands. He defended the town and its inhabitants with great verve and vigour throughout his time as mayor, most notably during the 1990s when he famously tried to ban tourists bringing their own food in cold boxes as he claimed the practice damaged the local hospitality sector.

After news of his death was announced, tributes flooded in.

The governor of the province of West Flanders, Carl Decaluwé, called Lippens “a visionary”, while Joachim Coens, the mayor of the neighbouring town of Damme fondly remembered his “pleasant collaborations” with Lippens who was “totally devoted to his commune.”

The leader of the MR party Georges-Louis Bouchez also conveyed his condolences, saying Lippens was a romantic who wore his heart on his sleeve, and a man who put his commune on the map.  He was “an incarnation of Belgium," Bouchez added.

Meanwhile, first councillor Piet De Groote has been chosen to succeed Leopold Lippens as mayor. The local council will meet on Thursday to confirm the decision.

Written by Nick Amies