Sunday, September 17, 2006

Article:Farewell Jim

Here's an obituary of Jim Walker I prepared for the Co-operative News. Jim was a long-serving councillor and co-operator in Croydon and was a real Croydon presence.
Veteran co-operator and Labour and Co-operative councillor in Croydon, South London, Jim Walker, died on August 26 aged 92.

Mr Walker, who was first elected in 1958, served as a Labour and Co-op councillor for more than half a century, his final stint as a councillor lasting 27 years. He was still holding his seat when he turned 90, becoming Britain's oldest elected representative. He served as Mayor of Croydon in 1991-2.

He passed away peacefully at Mayday Hospital just three months after finally stepping down from politics in May 2006.

Born in County Down, Northern Ireland, Jim arrived in Croydon in the early 1930s with his mother. He married his wife Grace in 1940 and they both became active members of the Labour and Co-operative Parties. A surveyor, he worked for many years for the South Suburban Co-operative Society, heading its property provision and planning the mixed use of South Suburban’s West Croydon headquarters that made the property profitable. He was later President of the Society.

He became a magistrate in 1955 and served for 29 years. In 1958 he was elected to the council for the Thornton Heath ward - but lost the seat after 10 years. He contested Streatham at two general elections. He returned in 1979 as member for Fieldway and held his position for the next 27 years until his retirement. He chaired Streatham and Croydon North Constituency Labour Parties and served on the local Health Authority.

In the 1960s, Jim was instrumental in securing a new site for Ruskin House, Croydon’s Labour, Trade Union and Co-operative headquarters. He became President of Ruskin House and served in that position for 30 years. He converted it into an Industrial and Provident Society, reaffirming his link to the co-operative movement. His co-operative society and the Party supported Ruskin House’s redecoration, with South Suburban donating the carpets, and they became shareholders of the organisation. Jim was honoured in a ceremony in 1990 by Roy Hattersley for his service to Ruskin House.

He was one the members on the planning committee which played a leading role in the development of Croydon as one of the country's most thriving business and retail centres. In 1991 the Tory-controlled council decided to recognise his work by electing him mayor, only the fifth Labour mayor of the town. He controversially announced he was going to dedicate his mayoral year to getting city status for the town - a dream which has still not been realised.

His own children followed him into politics. His sons, Martin, who died in 2004, and Peter, became Labour councillors in Croydon while daughter Rosemary became a Conservative councillor in Northampton. Peter's wife Mary Walker was also a long-standing Labour councillor and former Mayor of Croydon. She died in April 2005. His sons and their wives all played leading roles in the Co-operative Party and CWS and the Co-operative Group, locally and regionally.

In 2001 at a special event celebrating his dedication to local politics, Mr Walker received a handwritten note from Tony Blair in which the Prime Minister said the celebration was "testament of the esteem he was held in by colleagues and friends". He was awarded life membership of the Labour Party.


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