STEVE Leary has announced his retirement as editor of the St Helens Star.

He bows out after a career that has seen him spend 40 years at the newspaper, 22 of which were in the editor’s chair.

Steve, who turned 65 this year, joined the Star not long after its formation in 1973, when few people gave an “upstart freesheet” any chance of survival.

But that tag was soon banished as the Star’s editorial team, including the then editor Alan Whalley, Frank Martin and Steve, identified the appetite for a fresh take on local news and sports coverage.

Speaking this week, Steve, from Rainford, said a standout “source of pride was the way so many St Helens people took the Star to their hearts”.

Among the most cherished memories of his editorship were driving up funds for the Baby Danielle Appeal of the 1990s, which saw more than £90,000 raised by readers to fly a local girl with a facial disfigurement for life-changing surgery in America.

Backing the campaign to establish Willowbrook Hospice, fighting off attempts by the Boundary Commission to do a ‘land grab’ and place Haydock Park racecourse in Wigan, and being involved in a partnership to support the creation of Saints’ Langtree Park are other key achievements.

And celebrating the superhuman exploits of Steve Prescott and Andy Reid are picked out as highlights of recent years.

News of Steve’s retirement led to a flurry of tributes from senior figures across the town.

St Helens North Labour MP Dave Watts said: “He has been a great servant to the people of St Helens and always did his utmost to promote the best interests of the borough."

“His enthusiasm and dedication will be sorely missed.”

Carole Hudson, chief executive of St Helens Council, described Steve as “a true champion for St Helens”. She added: “Throughout his illustrious career he has demonstrated great talent and commitment.

“St Helens and its people are in his blood and he has carried out sterling work in highlighting and campaigning for local causes.

“He has always been fair and measured in his work and his integrity is second to none."

It was a view echoed by council leader Barrie Grunewald, who said: “I have always admired Steve for his complete impartiality, commitment and his drive to report issues of the day in a fair manner. “So many people around St Helens have him to thank for raising local issues and injustice along with highlighting some of the plights faced by some residents.

It is his ‘people first’ approach that has made Steve such a good journalist and campaigner for the good of St Helens. I wish him well.”

Despite the newspaper industry having to navigate hurdles posed by changes in technology and reading habits, the Star remains in a strong position, with the newspaper still distributed to more than 70,000 homes each week and, in some weeks, online readership peaking beyond more than 40,000 people.