Freeminer Eric Morris died at the wheel of his car this morning, leaving the Forest community in shock.
The 80-year-old left his home in The Pludds and had only travelled a few metres when he had a massive heart attack and died.
Police and air ambulance crews rushed to the scene at but were unable to save Eric, who had been president of the Freeminers' Association for more than 40 years and owned the Astonbridge Quarry.
Eric's wife Audrey said: "Everything seemed fine this morning. It has come as a huge shock to me.
"He was always so full of life and he was always on the ball with everything that was happening in the Forest."
Eric' step-son Nick Gibson said: "He was such a character and was well-respected throughout the Forest of Dean especially with the freeminers."
Eric's other step-son Nigel died aged 60 in November last year after losing his battle with cancer.
"That came as a huge shock to him because he saw him like his own son," said Audrey.
Family friend John Knight, a merchandiser for the Citizen, said: "I am in absolute shock. I only took a paper to his house this morning at about 7am.
"He was the king of The Pludds. I don't know what the community will do without him. It just won't be the same. He was a true gentleman."
Police sergeant Cheryl Godwin said: "He had got into his vehicle but suffered a heart attack. We called paramedics but they were sadly unable to revive him."
It is the Forest's coal mines that have been Eric's workplace for most of the last 60 years.
Starting work in Waterloo Colliery in 1950 Eric quickly worked his way up to a position on the coal face.
A man of mining stock on both sides of his family Eric told the Citizen in 2010 that his proudest moment was overhearing his father talking about him with a work colleague shortly after he moved on to the coal face at 18.
He said: "They said to my father, 'I hear young Eric's working on the coal face' and my father said 'he's a good collier already'. It was the proudest moment of my life."
In the early fifties Waterloo was a thriving pit and Eric and his colleagues could mine an average of 13 tonnes of coal a shift – 16tonnes in some areas.
At 21 Eric registered as a Freeminer working his own pit at the Reddings Colliery until the eighties when a drop in the price of coal made it unviable financially.
Since leaving his pit Eric kept just as active by helping protect the rights of the Freeminers and celebrating the Forest's mining history.
He was instrumental in defeating the Coal Authority's attempt to charge Freeminer's £2,500 for a license back in 1997 – re-negotiating it to just £50.
He was also one of the men behind the memorial to the Union Pit disaster and the recent plaque at The Pludds Colliery which commemorated the rescue of five men from the shaft when the Waterloo pit flooded in 1949.
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