Lord Ronnie Fearn RIP

I first met Ronnie pretty soon after getting involved in Liberal politics in 1980. If memory serves he was at that time a Sefton Borough Councillor for Southport’s Norwood Ward and a Merseyside County Councillor. He came across as a campaigner with huge amounts of energy, ideas and enthusiasm.

Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, passing on a little advice..

He encouraged me as a fresh-faced lad to stand for Maghull Town Council but I also recall him wondering out loud if my beard would go down well with the electorate. It did and I won a seat at a by-election in 1985. I would run into Ronnie not only locally when the Liberals, the SDP/Liberal Alliance and subsequently the Lib Dems were campaigning on an issue but also at Liberal Assemblies and then Lib Dem Conferences.

At conferences and assemblies, Ronnie was in his element often surrounded by like-minded campaigners and he had some fun at those events too; Llandudno in 1981 comes to mind as do many a Glee Club (a Liberal political sing-song at conferences) where Ronnie would always do his bit of entertaining. Of course, he was heavily involved in amateur dramatics in Southport so being on stage was second nature to him.

Ronnie suitably dressed for a Burns Night

It was no surprise to me when he was elected as MP for Southport in 1987 as my feeling was folks in the Town looked upon him as Mr. Southport. He lost the seat in 1992 election but stepped right back into campaigning to get it back at the 1997 General Election, which of course he did. He retained his council seat for Norwood Ward of Sefton throughout his time as an MP and was a regular attendee at Council meetings as well as fulfilling his parliamentary duties. His boundless energy made it all possible. I recall asking him on one occasion whether he ever had a day when he did not want to campaign or struggled to do so when he was under the weather. His answer was I put my best foot forward and get on with things, or words to that effect.

Ronnie at the head of the table for his Sister-in Law Maureen’s 90th Birthday celebrations.

Ronnie was determined that I stand for Sefton Council and when I won a seat in Molyneux Ward in 1999 no one was more delighted for me. He then decided to step down as an MP and John Pugh was subsequently elected for the Southport seat. Ronnie found himself elevated to the House of Lords in 2001 where he served until 2018. Subsequent changes within the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council ended up with that fresh-faced lad, that I mentioned earlier, finding himself as Group Leader and then Council Leader in 2004 when the Libs became the largest party on the balanced Council. I was Council Leader until 2011 and Ronnie was a member of my Group and was Cabinet Member for Leisure too. I recall that on a number of occasions I would be leading my group through some tortuous council process whilst thinking to myself Lord Ronnie is sat there whilst I’m advising him what to do! All my instincts were set up to follow Ronnie’s advice and guidance, how on earth had the tables been turned?

Ronnie with John Pugh at Christine Polanski’s retirement party. Christine on the right was a secretary to the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council

The reality was that Ronnie was a kind and supportive chap who just wanted to help me to succeed and I’m so grateful for his years of guidance.

A close friend of Ronnie’s was David Rimmer, a fellow Sefton Councillor for Meols ward. David had the ability to sound just like Ronnie and every now and again he’d slip into his impersonation of Ronnie, usually to the great amusement of all concerned. It was not done in a way to make fun of Ronnie but in admiration of him.

So those are my memories of Ronnie, a kind and supportive man who encouraged a fresh-faced lad into front-line politics. I owe him a lot and will miss him greatly.

Shirley

The death of Shirley Williams has touched me deeply; she was a unique politician and a very good and decent human being. As a fresh-faced lad new to Liberal politics in 1980 I was soon swept up in the most amazing political experience; the Crosby by-election.

I met many famous politicians of the day during that campaign such as Roy Jenkins, David Steel & Jo Grimond but it was Shirley who I grew to know, respect and admire. Apart from her boundless enthusiasm and ability to put in many hours of hard slog day in day out she was the most enjoyable person to be in the company of. I recall that when she was listening to you she always seemed to lean her head to one side which I found most endearing.

Of course, like many others at this sad time, I’ve gone looking for photos of Shirley so here they are:-

Andrew McKinlay with Shirley – Maghull Country Club December 1981

Either side of Shirley are Dave Hylands and Jack Parkin – Maghull Country Club December 1981

1983 General Election in Southport – Shirley is with Iain Brodie Brown

Shirley with Anthony Hill in 2009 – Pritchards Book Shop Crosby

Shirley with Andrew Blackburn also in Pritchards Book Shop 2009

Lord Ronnie Fearn, Shirley and John & Annette Pugh

Tony Robertson, Shirley and Richard Clein – 2008

We shall not see the likes of her again and our political life is all the poorer. Today, at least to me, our leading politicians seem to have little stature and few if any are held in high regard across the political spectrum. Shirley was liked and indeed loved by many who did not share her left of centre and sometimes radical views; today our politics in comparison looks childlike, petty and far too tribal and no good will come of that. Shirley’s guiding hand will be missed by many for years to come but her legacy is to have inspired many young women to become politically active and that is a huge legacy of good.

Maureen Fearn – 90 and still going strong

My friend and former fellow Sefton Borough councillor Maureen Fearn celebrated her 90th birthday today and we had a little party in Prezzo Southport to mark the occasion.

Maureen is 2nd from the left.

I blogged about Maureen (and her Brother-in-Law Ronnie) a while back and here’s a link back to that previous posting from March 2016 as they were both retiring from Sefton Council:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/03/26/tribute-to-ronnie-and-maureen-fearn-on-their-retirement-from-sefton-council/

Maureen was first elected to the old Southport Borough Council in 1971 and as noted in my previous posting she retired from Sefton Borough Council in May 2016. Over the years she has spent many hours fundraising for the Mayor of Sefton’s charity and she still does.

If we are all as fit and active as Maureen at the age of 90 life will be good indeed.

Happy Birthday Maureen

Click on the photo to enlarge it

Tribute to Ronnie and Maureen Fearn on their retirement from Sefton Council

Lord Ronnie Fearn, who has been a councillor in Southport since before Sefton Council was even created back in 1974, and his sister-in law Maureen Fearn are both to retire as Sefton councillors this May. Both have been tireless workers for their community and indeed for Southport and the Borough of Sefton generally.

I have known them both for many years and it was Ronnie, together with Anthony Hill, who pushed me into standing for Sefton Council.

Ronnie was once the Leader of the Lib Dem Group on Sefton and he was also a member of the short lived Merseyside County Council. Before both of these he was a member of the old Southport County Borough Council. Of course he was elected as MP for Southport twice as well and then entered the House of Lords where he still sits.

Lord Ronnie Fearn with, Baroness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Annette Pugh

Lord Ronnie Fearn with, Baroness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Annette Pugh

Not long after I was elected to Sefton Council a combination of unusual circumstances found me as the Lib Dem Group Leader and then Leader of the Council. They must have been desperate! But of course this meant I was now Ronnie’s Leader and I always thought it was a bizarre situation. The man whom I looked up to looked to me, a lad from Maghull, for leadership! To be honest Ronnie did not interfere but when asked for his opinion he would give it in a kindly and helpful way but he always seemed to be my boss in my head.

And what about Maureen – 3 times the Mayor of Sefton. A tough but kind lady who is not taken in by anyone but is always a delight to talk to about anything. She reminds me of my dear old Mum offering advice and encouragement but firm with people who cross her.

Maureen would chair Lib Dem Sefton Council Group meetings during my time as Leader in a fair and even handed way until someone had, in her view, overstepped the mark. Then she would say ‘right I have heard enough we are moving on’ and the culprit usually backed off. If they seemed to challenge her she would turn into a Victorian School Marm and you got a real ticking off.

Those who were on the end of Maureen losing her sense of humour know who they are – Tony D, Simon and Fred, mentioning no names of course.

Ronnie has a political radar for trouble that I have rarely seen elsewhere, indeed only Andrew Blackburn, whom I nick-named Radar (MASH watchers will get this), has the same sixth sense for ‘elephant traps’ as Ronnie called them.

Maureen was President of the North West of England Lib Dems a while back and she sprung quite a surprise on my dear old friend Charles (Uncle Albert) Walker when she called him up to the podium at a conference and presented him with an award for all his efforts for Lib Dems. Charles, now a young 94, only showed me his award certificate a couple of weeks ago; he is very proud of it and Maureen who presented it to him.

Charles Walker being present with his award by Maureen Fearn.

Charles Walker being present with his award by Maureen Fearn.

Maureen is loved across the political spectrum and indeed Ronnie is too.

They both deserve a long and happy retirement from politics because they have devoted their lives to helping others. Happy retirement Ronnie and Maureen.

Shirley Williams – In praise of a great servant of the public

News that Shirley Williams is to retire from politics after many years in the public eye brings back memories of her for me.

I first met Shirley in the famous Crosby By-election when as a young Liberal I was working to help get her elected as the SDP/Liberal Alliance candidate.

She came across as a down to earth friendly person who really cared about people and this proved to be the case over the many years I have known and met her.

Here are some photos of Shirley with me and others:-

1983 General Election campaigning in Southport with a young Iain Brodie Browne.

1983 General Election campaigning in Southport with a young Iain Brodie Browne.

Lord Ronnie Fearn, Barness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Anette Pugh

Lord Ronnie Fearn, Barness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Anette Pugh

Myself and Richard Clein with Shirley at Tree Tops Restaurant

Myself and Richard Clein with Shirley at Tree Tops Restaurant

Former Cllr. Anthony Hill in Crosby's Pritchard's Bookshop with Shirley in 2009

Former Cllr. Anthony Hill in Crosby’s Pritchard’s Bookshop with Shirley in 2009

A decent and well liked politician and there aren’t too many of them around now nor indeed in the past. I hope she is able to enjoy her retirement. I feel privileged to have known and worked with Shirley.

Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport at 50!

No Ron is not 50 but he has recently completed 50 years as a councillor for the same area of Southport – Craven Ward now called Norwood Ward.

The man of the moment, Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, pass on a little advice last night.

The man of the moment, Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, passes on a little advice last night.

Yes Ronnie has served as MP for Southport and now he is in the House of Lords but it is his remarkable record of continuously serving the people of Southport on Southport Borough Council (until 1974), Merseyside County Council (until Mrs Thatcher abolished it) and Sefton Borough Council from 1974 to date that this posting pays tribute to.

Ronnie Fearn, Shirley Williams, John Pugh & Anette Pugh

Ronnie Fearn, Shirley Williams, John Pugh & Anette Pugh

Last night a gala dinner was held the Ramada Hotel, Southport to celebrate Ronnie’s remarkable achievement. The room was packed with Liberal friends from across the UK as well as many local people who have worked with Ronnie over the years.

Former BBC and Liverpool Post reporter Nick Hancock debating with Sefton's Lib Dem Leader Iain Brodie-Browne.

Former BBC and Liverpool Post reporter Jim Hancock debating with Sefton’s Lib Dem Leader Iain Brodie-Browne.

Guest speakers were John Pugh the present Lib Dem MP for Southport and the redoubtable Baroness Shirley Wiliams.

A great night was had all round. Congratulations Ronnie – 50 years a councillor. I am coming up for 30 years and frankly 50 seems like a target I may well not want to hit!