The stand out news as I checked my news feed earlier today was of the death of Julian Ware-Lane.
While saddened to hear of Julian’s passing, I was not shocked; for some months he had been battling with cancer. He was well known in Southend as being active in politics and in the community. He was a Labour party activist, serving as councilor in the Milton ward and standing for Parliament. I understand he took his council responsibilities seriously, championing those he represented and was diligent when it came to canvassing (in all weathers). Southend Echo in its “Tributes paid to Southend Labour councillor Julian Ware-Lane” article provides background and some of the tributes. These have been pouring in, from many quarters, including by those who had a different set of political beliefs to those of Julian. I was reminded of this and the first time I met Julian. It was in 2004 at the mayor making ceremony held at the civic centre. The mayor that year was Roger Weaver, who likely held quite different political opinions to those of Julian, but despite being one of Julian’s political opponents was one who provided generous tribute. Another Tory activist was often heard warmly giving Julian credit while alive with words like: “I don’t normally agree with Julian but …” I recall when we met at last May’s local election count, him having fun with a political opponent, in a way reminiscent of the Chuckle brothers.
Since that early meeting my path has often crossed with that of Julian’s and in the main it has been positive. While forthright in expressing his opinions, his approach was usually a winsome one and he invariably struck me as having the good of the town at heart, even though we often disagreed. It struck me that the motivating force behind Julian’s politics was social justice and an independent spirit. It is difficult not to smile when thinking of Julian and while like most there was a darker side, he could often make one smile with his unique brand of humour and ability to make even those ideologically opposed to him feel that he was well disposed to them. For a period he maintained a blog, which usually made interesting and informative reading. While I tried to maintain a politically neutral position, I could not help but be interested in local politics and here Julian seemed often to be playing a part as well as in various community enterprises. My last meeting with Julian was at the Southend Pride event in the summer, and while beginning to show signs of his illness he still seemed very much at home. But it is regarding a shared passion – helping the homeless in the town, that our paths crossed the most, especially in one particular undertaking.
Going back two and a half years ago, Julian asked if he could play a part in practically helping the homeless, aware that I would be managing one of the church winter night shelters that ran between December and March. I invited him to come along and volunteer, which he did. When assigning roles I suggested he could be the doorman given his way with words and in my eyes evident skill in placating even the most difficult of guests. One of the many other strings to his bow was that he was a qualified football referee and it seemed to me if he could officiate over 22 potentially unruly football players he could take on this position. This he carried out with customary aplomb as well as generally helping out and using his interest in what is going on around him and way with words to engage with guests and volunteers. He also volunteered the following years although, sadly, as we were preparing for the shelter for this year he informed me that because of health reasons, he could not volunteer this year. I never got the impression he milked the fact he volunteered in a homeless night shelter, and I would like to think this was one of many activities he partook in, doing so in style and his way, simply because it was the right thing to do.
I have no doubt there will be many other affectionate anecdotes coming out as people pay their tribute to Julian, who was a formidable force in the life in the town. Our thoughts and prayers are for his family and friends. Southend has lost someone who really did contribute much and who will be much missed.
Update 27/01/19: One of the volunteers who worked with Julian in the night shelters, on learning of Julian’s death wrote this, which I think brings out one of Julian’s endearing qualities – a champion for the underdog: “Thanks for breaking the news about Julian. I did wonder when I didn’t see his name this season but always forgot to ask you. I liked him a lot. I suppose the best memory I have of him was when B and a lot of others were banned the season before last. If you remember, B turned up and you let him have his evening meal, leaving the decision to C on whether or not to allow him to stay the night. Everyone – guests and volunteers – wanted him to stay and Julian told me he was lobbying for him“. (B was a normally well behaved guest who had earlier got into a fight.)
Update 31/01/19: Today I attended Julian’s memorial service. The Hall was packed and included many community leaders and those representing Julian’s many interests, notably political. While it was a sad occasion, there was much laughter. A number of tributes were given, including by family, drawing out many aspects of his life including his rather eclectic taste in music and his many political interests. It was evident here was someone who just got on with life, trying to make a difference in the best way he knew how. While he could be adamant when it comes to the rightness of his point of view, he could also be generous when it came to his dealings those who opposed him (many who were at the service). He will be fondly missed by many and will leave a hard to fill gap.