townviewHot TOPICS town h clean 

Sad news sparks happy memories

(February 17, 2009)

COUNCIL minutes do not often stir the emotions but news that two long serving and highly regarded former councillors had died late last year stopped me in my tracks for a while when I was browsing through the latest minutes from the county council, writes Steve Dancey.

Mrs Mary Salisbury, who represented Melksham as a Labour councillor between 1955 and 2001, has died at the age of 90. She was a kind, highly dignified and constructive councillor who was always prepared to listen to other views. When I was elected in 1989 my first act was to install Mrs Salisbury as chairman – at the time the political parties were evenly balanced so I effectively had the deciding vote.

I knew of Mrs Salisbury from when I ran a business in Melksham between 1980 and 1984 so I had no hesitation in supporting her bid to be the council’s first woman and Labour chairman in its 100 year history , a post she held for three years.

When my son was born she presented me with a county council tie and I have happy memories of accompanying her and her husband Bob to RAF Chilmark in 1991where we were the guests of the squadron leader commanding the soon to be closed base.

Percy Jefferies, a Swindon councillor who has died at the age of 88, used to sit about 10 ft away from me at meetings and I was often the butt of his jokes and comments. It was difficult to fight back as I had always been taught to respect my elders and he was almost four decades my senior.

While I was mercilessly picked on Percy reserved his real bile for Conservative councillors and you had the impression that he really didn’t like them. As a stalwart of the union movement in the tough industrial relations environment in post-war Swindon he no doubt had his good reasons.

I on the other hand was just a misguided youngster. After I left the council Percy was elected as the first male Labour county chairman in the mid 1990s and I caught up with him again during a royal visit to Wiltshire when he seemed genuinely pleased to see me.

I often look back on some of the characters I have had to listen to over the years and it seems to me that the generation of people who were young adults during the Second World War usually had the ability to fully appreciate what was really important. Names such as Jack Ainslie, Reg Coole and Tom Cowie also spring to mind.

Perhaps their experience of losing so many friends during the 1939-45 period helped to shape the way they looked at the world.

Click here to return to the HOT TOPICS page