Obituary: Former Glasgow city councillor and Queens Cross HA chairman John Gray
John Gray, who has died aged 88 after a period of ill health, was a former Glasgow Corporation, Glasgow District, Strathclyde Regional and Glasgow City councillor representing South Maryhill and environs from 1965 to 2007.
Over five decades of public service, his contribution to his local community and the West of Scotland was exceptional. He was a much loved: uncle, friend, councillor, socialist, community activist and Partick Thistle supporter.
John was brought up in Dick Street, Woodside, an area he was to live in and represent for most of his life. His parents, despite economic difficulties, selflessly adopted three children. John was the youngest of the three with Mamie the oldest and in the middle Alex, who was to become a father figure for the young John on the early death of his father. John’s education at Napiershall Street Primary School and St. George’s Road School was interrupted by poor health. However, he gained a lifelong love of books from his mother and big brother, covering everything from Dickens to political biographies
On leaving school at 14, John became the delivery boy for Dykes the grocer at Canniesburn Toll going to the big houses in Bearsden and Glasgow’s West End. John enjoyed being able to contribute to the household finances, but Alex interviewed the shop owner and concluded that a trade would serve John better in his journey through life. John regretted the loss of the tips, and the bike, and the insights into the middle classes’ occasionally erratic attitude to grocers’ bills, but started an electrical apprenticeship at John Brown’s Shipyard, Clydebank. On completing his apprenticeship John worked in the Yards, Ruchill Hospital and Glasgow Corporation Lighting Department.
Exploring alternatives, he once briefly worked selling sewing machines door-to-door; but he found he was too honest to have a good line in patter, and managed only a single sale before returning to electricity and public service.
A life-long member of the Labour Party and his trade union (EEPTU, later Unite), John was active in the Labour League of Youth as a teenager. He very quickly became chairman of his local branch encouraging many young comrades in their political education. So highly regarded was he that the Labour Party appointed John to accompany Clem Attlee on his visits to Glasgow. Both modest men with much to be proud of. He fondly recalled sitting next to Attlee at a dinner in the Central Hotel in Charing Cross, and seeing the PM about to speak, leaned in to hear the famously taciturn man’s political wisdom: ‘they do a good fish tea here’.
John married Ann Campbell in 1958 but they separated, then divorced in 1974. In 1967 they lived in Liverpool where John worked as an electrician in the shipyards there, and in Fazakerly Hospital. John then worked briefly in Sellafield, Cumbria before returning to Maryhill and continuing his political work as a Glasgow Corporation councillor.
As well as a councillor, John was a respected and sought-after Election Agent. He successfully carried out this role for his friends, Neil Carmichael in his Woodside and Kelvingrove Parliamentary election victories in the 1960s and 1970s, and Maria Fyfe in Maryhill. He continued to manage victorious election campaigns for fellow councillors throughout the 1980s and 1990s. John was never one to blow his own trumpet, but he did very occasionally allow himself a certain grim satisfaction at the negative outcomes after campaigns where he was not the agent.
John was an effective, popular and much-loved local community representative. His achievements were many. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the regeneration of South Maryhill. In the 1960s and 1970’s the area was run down and suffered badly from planning blight due to the proposed “Maryhill Motorway”. Parts of Maryhill had already been demolished in anticipation of this road when John successfully moved, in one of the last decisions made by Glasgow Corporation, that the plan be cancelled. New housing developments eventually could take place, the population stabilised and primary schools retained.
Working with other community activists John was instrumental in turning the Methodist Central Halls in Maryhill Road into a much-needed community centre which for 40 years has been Community Central Hall. In the early days, John was a very hands-on volunteer on duty at youth discos and other events. John was also a great supporter of Queens Cross Housing Association becoming chairman. He also served as an executive committee member of the Talbot Association.
The senior positions held within local government by John Gray are too many to list. He did not seek positions for status. What was important was making a positive difference to the lives of people. Much of his time and energy went on fighting poverty and inequality and in helping young people. He saw the benefits that accrued for poorer communities as a result of the work he and colleagues contributed to the Regional Council’s innovative Social Strategy to tackle multiple deprivation.
His own experience of adoption meant that among his many Social Work interests, good adoption services were a priority. A senior social worker remarked that John Gray in Chairing Adoption Panels throughout his local government service must have been responsible for more adoptions in Glasgow than anyone else.
John also promoted the Special Olympics in Strathclyde Region and Glasgow City to the benefit of hundreds of people with Special Needs. He was a strong supporter of a professional Youth and Community Development Service. He did not simply talk the talk but walked the walk as he gave practical support to youth and elderly exchanges and encouraging in a practical and common-sense way community development
John Gray was loyal to his: community, Party, many friends and Partick Thistle. His work and loyalty were recognised when he received the Partick Thistle Community Champion Award before a capacity crowd at Firhill. A well-deserved award for a modest, quiet effective champion of the people.
His recreation, apart from following the Jags, was frequenting the Woodside Inn on Maryhill Road for a dram or two.
John is survived by his nephew, Norman and niece, Barbara.
His funeral will be a private affair but in accordance with John’s wishes friends are invited to a remembrance event to party and celebrate his life. This will be held on a date to be confirmed in October in Community Central Hall. All friends welcome.