Colleagues of John Greetham, former chair of Northern and Yorkshire regional health authority, have spoken of their sadness at his death from cancer last month.

The 61-year-old Yorkshire millionaire was described as an 'energetic figure' and a man 'full of life'.

He was a committed reformer and was at the forefront of the creation of the internal market under the Conservative government in the early 1990s. A one-time Conservative councillor and a successful businessman, he became chair of St James' University Hospital trust when it became one of the first-wave trusts set up in 1991 - an appointment which eventually led to criticism that he was part of a Tory campaign to politicise the NHS.

He always denied such accusations, and many people saw him as a man using his skills as a businessman and motivator to help improve the public sector.

In 1994 he became chair of Northern and Yorkshire RHA, the same year he was awarded a CBE by the Queen.

Labour targeted him as a socalled 'fat cat' and he became a victim of its shake-up of NHS boards in 1997, when he quit ahead of plans to replace Tory appointees.

A spokesperson for Northern and Yorkshire regional office said colleagues remembered him 'as a colourful character who was not afraid of change - but was a stout defender of the fundamental principles of the NHS'.

Former colleague and now chief executive of Bradford health authority Ian Donnachie said: 'He was only 61 and it is a real sadness that he has died. He was a strong character and had tremendous drive to get things done but he was always fun to work with. '

Roy Lilley, former trust chair, told HSJ: 'He was an energetic man with vision. He played a pivotal role at an interesting time. '

Mr Greetham died at the Chateau Cavagnac in France, where he had moved six months after being diagnosed with cancer and a year after he retired from business. He leaves behind wife Jill and children Justin, James, Sandy and Abbi.