He was a well-regarded Conservative politician who took on many of the mundane duties that were important to the functioning of the party. Never charismatic, he was a loyal adjutant to Irwin Bellow during the latter’s leadership of the Leeds City Council – so much so that when Bellow was suddenly catapulted into Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979 it was natural that the party would turn to Sparling’s safe pair of hands to take over as leader.
It was a difficult time, with no party holding a majority and with Labour sniping from the sidelines despite having turned down a coalition with the Liberals. He served as council leader until Labour won back control in May 1980.
Born in Leeds on Christmas Eve, 1933, he was educated at Leeds Grammar School and after qualifying as a solicitor, went on to become a senior partner at Blacks.
He moved into local politics in the 1960s, and served as a councillor for Moortown ward from 1968-1987, when he was appointed an Honorary Alderman.
His committee skills were applied to many organisations in Leeds. He was chairman of the governors of the Grammar School for 18 years, seeing it through its merger with the Leeds Girls’ High School and its transition into the Grammar School at Leeds on its new site at Alwoodley.
He was one of the founding board members of what became Opera North and chaired its Friends organisation for 20 years. Whilst leader of the Council, he agreed with the Grand Theatre board to invite Leeds’ twin city, Dortmund, to send its opera company to put a week of opera to celebrate the theatre’s centenary.
The company duly came with a staff of 200, at an astronomical cost, and Sparling told the Liberal councillor Michael Meadowcroft, whose idea it had been, that had he known what would be involved, he “would never have let him get away with it”. As it was, he had to hide some of the expenditure under different budgets.
He was a non-executive director of the Leeds Dental Health Authority from 1992 to 1997, and a director for several years of the West Yorkshire Playhouse board. In recent years he was a very active governor of Bardsey Primary School.
He held many offices within the Conservative party, including chairman and later president of the Elmet and Rothwell constituency party, and for many years he was a season ticket holder at Leeds United.
He was appointed MBE in 2014 for his contribution to the arts, education and the community. His wife, Bettie, daughter Helen, and son James, survive him.