Friday, August 14, 2009
Bedford's Mayor Branston dies
News reaches me for the second time that Bedford's first directly elected mayor, Frank Branston has died. I say the second time, since I first heard he had died 11 days ago. The news had ironically also made the newspaper he founded, the Beds on Sunday, but was swiftly taken down - something, had he known about it I am sure Frank would have found very amusing! But he didn't recover from a heart operation and now his death will force a byelection in Bedford, probably on 1st October. Last week it was a real shock, when someone is such a larger than life character it is hard to imagine the world without them.
Frank hated the Lib Dems almost obsessionally, and yet following our becoming the largest group in May, he was obliged to include Lib Dems in his cabinet. But for some reason, I always had a good relationship with him. When he was first elected mayor he asked me to join his cabinet, even promising to create a special youth portfolio for me. For someone who was passionate about making a difference to the lives of young people in Bedford, this was hugely tempting, but of course I would have had to resign as a Lib Dem. Frank was shocked when I said that I would have then to resign and recontest my seat - but I can hardly shout the odds about others not doing so and not doing so myself.
Frank was a non practising Jew, but took an interest in Israel Palestine and attended meetings we arranged through Elijah Trust with Elias Chacour and others. He shared our concern about the situation and privately donated to one of our partner groups as well as supporting other similar charities. He also wrote an unpublished novel, "Millenium Man" about an apocalyptic plot to precipitate Armageddon, in the 80s which he lent me - It was excellent and still incredibly topical - having had other novels published I couldn't understand why he hadn't published this one too.
I always enjoyed the banter with Frank. A couple of years ago I discovered that he had been responsible for a piece about me in Beds on Sunday describing me as "cuddly Councillor Jack". I vowed to get revenge and was able to do so twice. Firstly during a heated budget debate when things had turned quite nasty I started by describing him as a round brown bear of a mayor - certainly turned the temperature down; later, in the run up to the last mayoral elections in 2007, I referred to him as now being a polar bear mayor, an endangered species, likely to be extinct after the next election - a comment which was also picked up by BOS resulted in this amusing pic.
There is no doubt that Frank was an imposing character, often difficult and sometimes downright rude, but underneath all that was a man who I have seen show genuine compassion, who could be very funny, who was an impressive writer and was also very much a family man. My heart goes out to his wife Marlies and his daughters.
Tomorrow we must begin the campaign for a Lib Dem Mayor in Bedford, today is time to remember a man few of us will ever be able to forget!