Tributes pour in for big-hearted Harry

TRIBUTES have been paid to former Spen councillor and Mayor of Kirklees Harry Fox who has died after a fall in Malta at the age of 71.

When Harry retired from politics in 2004, he was Spen Valley's longest serving councillor having held seats on Spenborough, West Yorkshire County and Kirklees councils.

He was also on the West Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defence Authority and was its leader when he decided to move from Gomersal to Malta to be with his daughter Alison Horner and her family.

Coun David Sheard, chairman of the Batley and Spen Constituency Labour Party, said Harry was "old Labour" through and through.

"He was a working man who worked his way up in his job and also in politics," he said.

"He worked tirelessly for the local community. He knew his area inside out and was a typical good local councillor who never wanted anything for himself.

"I will miss him - I missed him when he moved abroad; he was just good company on a non-political level. Anyone who met Harry knew how cheerful and hard working he was."

Simon Pilling, acting chief fire officer of West Yorkshire, said: "Harry Fox was a great and distinguished friend to West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and he will be sadly missed.

"Harry was the last chairman of West Yorkshire County Council's Fire Committee before that organisation was abolished in 1986 but returned to the then West Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defence Authority a decade later. He took over as leader of the Authority in 2004 prior to his retirement to be with family in Malta in 2005.

"Harry was a colourful character and an amusing companion but he was also extremely shrewd and earned considerable respect locally and across the region for his political vision and able stewardship of one of the country's largest and most complex metropolitan fire brigades.

"Our deepest sympathies go out to his family."

Spen MP Mike Wood said Harry Fox would be sadly missed by all his friends and comrades in the local Labour Party.

"I will always remember Harry as a larger than life character who liked a drink and laugh but who was absolutely committed to serving the people he represented," he said.

"He was ably supported in this by his late wife Margaret whose untimely death robbed him of his closest friend and support. We were all sorry to see him move a few years ago to Malta to be close his daughter and family but were hopeful that this would mean he might enjoy a well earned rest."

Harry was born and brought up in Leeds and the Labour movement was always in his blood.

After leaving school he became an apprentice heating engineer and joined the heating and ventilation engineers union. He remained an active trade union member throughout his life.

In 1959 he began working at BBA in Cleckheaton, later becoming principal officer in mechanical engineering for Bradford Council.

He joined the Labour Party when he was just 18 and was elected to Spenborough Council in 1963, serving until 1974.

He then became a West Yorkshire County Councillor from 1982 until it was abolished in 1986 and was elected to Kirklees in 1991 where he enjoyed continuous service until his retirement.

In 1998 his wife, Margaret, died - just before he was to be made deputy mayor. He considered declining the role, but his family persuaded him to continue with Alison as his deputy mayoress.

The following year he had the honour of being the civic head during the millennium. His inauguration was held in Cleckheaton - a move he felt was important to the people of Spen Valley.

During his time on the council Harry was chairman of the local planning committee and vice chairman of housing.

His elder daughter, Joanne Hird, said: "He was overjoyed to represent the people in his ward. He liked to help people and he saw things through to the end. It gave him a lot of joy and satisfaction.

"Being mayor was a huge honour for him and it was all the more special because it was the millennium."

Speaking to the Guardian when he announced his retirement Harry said: "It's the humblest of things that mean so much - helping someone get a council house when they are in dire straits; saving Gomersal Public Hall from closure twice, being involved in the campaigns to save RM Grylls and High Bank Schools and traffic improvements on Bradford Road following accidents in which an elderly man died and a little girl was injured."

Away from politics Harry was a devoted husband and father.

"He was always there for any of us," said Joanne.

"Even when he went to Malta, if there were any problems I knew he would be there, just like he always was.

"He also liked to socialise. He was a familiar face in the Wheatsheaf, Gomersal Cricket Club and the Spen Ex-servicemen's club. He loved chatting to people and was very humourous when he wanted to be.

"I think he'd like to be remembered as someone who helped people and just for the big-hearted person that he was."

As well as his daughters, Harry leaves sons-in-law Mark and Martin, grandchildren Ezme, Elle-Ann, Adam, Luke, Ryan and Nicole, and sister Leonnie.

The funeral service takes places at 1pm on Friday February 23 at Dewsbury Crematorium.