Final farewell to a real champion

Former Wansbeck MP Jack Thompson is angry at the proposal to shut Ashington Leisure Centre.
Former Wansbeck MP Jack Thompson is angry at the proposal to shut Ashington Leisure Centre.

FAMILY and friends have said goodbye to much-loved politician Jack Thompson, 82, who was Wansbeck MP for 14 years.

The lad from Fourth Row in Ashington rose to represent his country in the Council of Europe, represented the Queen as a Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland and the people of his home area as Labour Member of Parliament.

Even in his final months he was a diligent speaker at local town and county council meetings, still fighting the corner of his community.

In his last campaign, to save a leisure centre for Ashington, he gave money, as well as time, and saw victory achieved.

After a private cremation at Cowpen, family and friends gathered last Thursday for a memorial service at St Bartholomew’s Church in Newbiggin.

Friend and agent John McCormack told the large congregation: “The community has lost a champion, a campaigner, an advocate on their behalf. And Jack’s passing will affect the community a great deal.”

The goodbyes were said in the village where he and wife Margaret began married life 59 years ago.

The couple, who had met at Larry Bell’s Boys’ Club, had two children — Norma, who runs the Endeavour café in Newbiggin, and Brian, a businessman in the United States. They have grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Jack was an electrical engineer for the National Coal Board (NCB) when he became involved in the union and, in 1970, was elected to Newbiggin Urban District Council.

When Wansbeck district was created in 1974, he was elected to that, staying five years, and to Northumberland County Council, where he served 11 years and became a reforming leader of the council.

County Hall at Morpeth was built during his leadership.

On his election to Parliament in 1983, the NCB’s response was an eviction notice. The family moved to Falstone Crescent in Ashington, where the couple remained.

In their youth, the pair would travel by motorcycle and sidecar, in which he rigged up headphones so they could speak over the roar of the engine. Later, they enjoyed caravanning.

Coun McCormack said there was a cynical belief now that politicians were in it for what they could get, but that was not a true reflection of public life and certainly not of Jack Thompson.

Coun McCormack was beaten to the Wansbeck Labour candidacy by Jack, who immediately invited him to be his agent.

“He gave 100 per cent to the people he represented,” he said.

He became an opposition whip, not a hard man but a gentleman.

Coun McCormack added: “I can only assume that to persuade his colleagues to follow the party line, he used far more carrot than stick.”

On the Council of Europe, he chaired several committees. Just before he retired from Parliament in 1997, he became a Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland.

In 2000, he was president of Ashington Rotary Club, and he chaired an education forum to increase opportunities for people in the area and chaired an NHS patients’ forum.

Coun McCormack said: “Jack certainly made a difference, he made a difference for the better and all I can say is that he will be sadly missed, but never forgotten.”

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has also paid tribute to the politician.

He said: “Jack Thompson was a true Northumbrian and was committed to the good of the county and its people.

“It was a pleasure to work with him over many years in which he served both in Parliament and, prior to that, on the county council.”

Mr Thompson’s family have invited donations in his memory to the Great North Air Ambulance and Newbiggin RNLI lifeboat station.