I attended the funeral this week of Vic Burton, former Hartlepool councillor and Mayor and Alderman of the town.
Vic was a lovely man, who always wanted to see working class people and our town prosper and get a better deal. He was everything you want in an elected representative – conscientiousness, caring, hard-working, determined and full to the brim with the notion of public service.
I remember Vic as a retired railwayman and sitting having a quick pint or two with the likes of Labour stalwarts Matty Daley and Horace Bishop – sadly no longer with us – Vic used to be able to tell some pretty good tales about his time on the railways.
However, his career went further back than that. The vicar presiding over Vic’s funeral at Stranton Church on Tuesday, the Rev Norman Shave, told a story about how he started working life as a butcher’s boy and was headhunted, if that is the right word, to work for another butchers, this time with additional responsibilities and extra pay. Vic persuaded the butcher that he could do all of those things and so got the pay increase on day one.
That story showed his ability as a negotiator and his determination. Those skills were developed and honed as a shop steward for his trade union. Vic was a great trade unionist, exemplifying all that is important about the trade union movement, particularly in terms of working diligently for the members. I thought it was a nice and respectful touch that senior representatives of the railway union Aslef came up to Hartlepool to pay their respects at Vic’s funeral, a sign of how important his contribution was.
He perhaps wasn’t so great at negotiating with the love of his life, at least at first, although that paid off in the end. Norman the vicar retold the lovely family story of how Vic was somewhat shy to ask a pretty girl like Violet out for a date. Violet had to take matters into her own hands and ask a mutual friend to suggest to Vic that perhaps she would like to go out with him. Three years later, they were married, a marriage lasting over 60 years until her death a couple of years ago.
Mary Fleet, outgoing Mayor of Hartlepool and herself a superb councillor who has just retired from Hartlepool Borough Council, put it best and far better than I could when she said:
“Vic Burton was a lovely man and was well liked by all who knew him, He was an extremely conscientious councillor, very hard working and committed to the betterment of the town.”
I’m truly saddened that Vic has left us. As Mary said, he was a lovely man, his heart was in the right place, his values were solid and he always wanted the best for working people and for Hartlepool. The term public service is often classed as old-fashioned and the word servant often seen as a put-down – neither of them should be seen as true. Vic was a truly superb public servant, in it for the right reasons. I’ll miss him. My thoughts and sympathies go out to Vic’s children Susan, Valerie, Stephen and Geoffrey.