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Obituary: Jean Wilding-Walsh

Obituary: Jean Wilding-WalshWe are sad to record the passing of yet another of Fylde's stalwart councillors - latterly Alderman and former Mayor of the Borough, Jean Wilding-Walsh who died in June aged 94.

Sadly we did not hear she had died until after her funeral had taken place, otherwise we would have been there to pay our respects to a grand and real lady.

She was a Councillor for Fairhaven Ward for many years and part of the Ratepayer group on the Council along with memorable luminary names like Councillors Hoyle, Wilson, Prociopides and others, at a time when the Ratepayer group was a force to be reckoned with.

Superficially she was what some would see as a 'old fashioned Schoolteacher Miss' sort of person, quite proper and a little prim, but that struck us as being something of a cultivated persona - because when you got to know her, she was incredibly witty and had a wickedly mischievous sense of humour.

As well as having a keen and very active brain, she was also a very able writer and in her day wrote technical articles on agriculture and botany.

But she also had a very human side, and people were always foremost in her mind. She served her constituents well on the Council and they, in turn, re-elected her year after year.

The great cause celebre of her ward and era was the introduction of Jet Skis on Fairhaven Lake - which she consistently opposed on behalf of her electorate who were badly disturbed by the noise from them.

Fylde's Leisure and Amenities Committee had wanted to re-juvenate the lake to restore its attraction as a crowd-puller -to make it as busy as it had been in the mid 1900s, when water skiing and similar events would draw crowds of spectators in the thousands.

So when the opportunity for what was then a very new activity - jet skis using the lake at high speed - the Council became convinced that this new pastime could bring in the crowds and restore what they saw as the popularity of the lake.

But the noise from the jet skis cause significant disturbance for residents living opposite the lake. This was aggravated by the fact that they were accustomed to having a very much more tranquil feature across the road in more recent times.

There was an absolutely huge furore over the jet skis, and matters eventually reached the Court where residents, using common law nuisance (as opposed to Statutory Nuisance) as the basis of their claim, had the matter considered by a Judge.

Cllr Wilding-Walsh later said of the event "The hearing was in Leeds and I was supposed to attend the only time I have ever been in dock. The licensees suggested the judge should visit the site, which he did some weeks later, and decided that water skiing was totally unsuited to the site and banned it making it illegal. The result was the council having to pay a substantial sum to the licensees"

(We should point out that her being in the dock was a slight overstatement on her part - it was the Council as a corporate body who had let the lake for this use.)

Whilst the overall decision of the Council had been well intended, it was the wrong decision, and Councillor Miss Wilding (as she was then), although in a minority on the Council who opposed the scheme, conducted her opposition to it with dignity and perseverance, earning her respect from many.

 

We have one personal anecdote to add to our recollection of her if we may be permitted to do so.

During her Mayoral year, she had been invited on an official visit to tour Blackpool's Victoria Hospital.

When you are the Mayor on official duties, you are the Sovereign's representative in your Borough. In terms of protocol and precedent, and because you are representing the Queen, within Fylde Borough, you take second place only to royalty.

So it is that when the Mayor is invited somewhere on official business, they get a lot of fuss made of them.

Her apparently prim disposition would probably have emphasised her standing in this context when she arrived and, sure enough, the visit to Blackpool Vic was no exception, Councillor Mrs Wilding-Walsh was escorted on a tour of the wards by a fussing posse of the most senior folk running the hospital.

(At a guess, they possibly wanted something to happen within Fylde, and having an official Mayoral visit was quite possibly a way they thought they could curry some favourable consideration by Fylde for what they wanted).

Whatever the reason for it, the caravan was making its way around the wards.

For reasons that would take too long to explain, at the time of her visit, one of Blackpool Vic's patients in a single occupancy side room just off the main ward was non other than yours truly and, as regular readers may have guessed, at one time we worked for the Borough Council in a fairly senior capacity, and we well were known to Councillor Mrs Wilding-Walsh.

It had been obvious that something was going on, because there had been extra cleaning that morning, and the nurses had been extra vigilant in getting the place tidy, but at the time, patients like us had no idea what it was.

As we were sitting on the bed in the early afternoon reading the paper, the posse wound its way down the corridor. When it arrived in our sight, Cllr Mrs Wilding-Walsh exclaimed "Oh Look, there's so and so, lets see how he is" and she was escorted into the room, followed by the posse trailing in her wake.

With no advance knowledge of her visit, I and other patients in the ward, were taken a bit by surprise by this.

It was even more of a surprise and to our great amusement that, having exchanged pleasantries and inquired as to wellbings, the posse began to fuss. Would I like a window open? Did I need a drink or anything bringing? Was it too warm or too cold?....

The very clear (and to be honest, quite amusing) promises of pampering on offer was one of the more memorable experiences of the hospital stay.

Even more so was the reaction of others after the posse had left.

Several of the (wonderful) nurses called in to see who had caused their top brass tour to be diverted into my side room, and wanted to know how I knew someone so important as the Mayor. All were unfailingly polite.

Some of the other patients were just as curious, but several were more, shall we say, forthright in their manner and jibes, when they realised it was simply that I was an employee and of no special significance to the Queen's Representative in Fylde.

As readers will see, the interlude has stayed fresh in the memory, as will the lovely Mrs Wilding-Walsh, whose concern for the wellbeing of others was a defining trait, and one which undoubtedly means she will live on in the memory of many - including ourselves.

We are sorry she is no longer with us, but - as we think she would have wished - we are mischievously joyful as we remember her hospital visit.

Dated:  08 July 2016


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