Our huge loss

Picture: Bill Johnson.'Camilla Duchess of Cornwall rides on a tram past Blackpool Tower. Veterans Week

Picture: Bill Johnson.'Camilla Duchess of Cornwall rides on a tram past Blackpool Tower. Veterans Week

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HE attended garden parties at Buckingham Palace and rode a Blackpool tram alongside the Duchess of Cornwall, but for Coun Jim Houldsworth, who died on Saturday, it was never about the plaudits.

The small gestures counted just as much, if not more, for the councillor universally described as having ‘loved his town’.

Working in his Marton ward meant just as much to him as his high-profile role bringing Armed Forces Week to Blackpool.

One friend recalls Coun Houldsworth dashing out of his Halifax Street home to extract the battery from a nearby speed warning sign to re-charge it, such was his attention to even the smallest detail of community life.

And when tearful residents spoke of their upset at the overgrown state of Marton Burial Ground, Coun Houldsworth wrote out a cheque for £900 from his own funds to get the grass cut.

Both are examples of a councillor prepared to go the extra mile for his constituents.

But much of his work had a lasting impact on Blackpool as a whole.

Coun Houldsworth was the driving force in making Armed Forces Week a firm fixture in the town’s events calendar, bringing in much-needed revenue for the tourism industry, and putting Blackpool on the map as offering a warm welcome to all veterans.

In 2008 he accompanied the Duchess of Cornwall when she visited the town after it was chosen to host the national Veterans’ Day celebrations.

He also helped establish the Supporting Our Brave community interest company, based in Bank Hey Street, which handles welfare issues for former soldiers down on their luck, and helped establish the Fylde Memorial Arboretum.

Supporting Our Brave’s patron and Falklands Islands hero Simon Weston said he had felt privileged to know Coun Houldsworth over the few years they had worked together.

He said: “He was a really good guy and a lovely man. On a personal level I will miss him, and the charity will miss him exceedingly.

“It is a huge loss for Blackpool of a man who really loved his town.”

Coun Houldsworth died on Saturday in Trinity Hospice with his family by his side.

The loving father and grandfather, who was 70, was told by doctors in August last year he had mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the lungs caused by asbestos. He was warned he had only a few months to live, but vowed to carry on working on behalf of his constituents.

Even the misfortune of his illness could not extinguish his spirit, and at the time he said: “I feel in a way it is a blessing I am being given the time to say thank you to the many people who have added to the rich tapestry of my life, so many happy memories to re-live.”

His wife Jackie, who he married in September 2010, said: “Jim was born and bred in Blackpool and was passionate about the town.

“He served as a Conservative councillor on the Marton Ward for nine years.

“He always said it’s not about the party you represent, its about the people.

“We knew it was coming but it doesn’t make it any easier.

“He truly was a remarkable man and I adored him. It is a great loss not only to the family but to the town.”

Coun Houldsworth was a member of the Territorial Army from the age of 21 to 50, serving with the Royal Artillery as a major, and on civvy street worked as a plumber.

Among his other commitments, he was North West Area Representative for the Royal Artillery Association, a trustee at BLESMA and Foxton’s (a charity for the sick and infirm), chairman of governors at Stanley School, a member of Blackpool South Rotary Club, the Friends of Marton Burial Ground and Normoss Round Table, and vice-chairman of the Fylde Ex-Service Liaison Committee.

He was elected to Blackpool Council in 2003.

Last week Coun Houldsworth, whose first wife Mary died in 2002, received a personal letter from David Cameron, and last month he was presented with the Blackpool Medal in recognition for his service to the town.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “He and I were elected on the same night in 2003, and I have greatly enjoyed working with him, and sparring with him over the past nine years.

“His dedication and commitment to his constituents and the people of Blackpool went without question, and he was not beyond breaking ranks with his political masters when he felt it necessary to do so.”

Coun Houldsworth’s death comes just a week after the death of Bloomfield ward councillor Mary Smith.

Poignantly she was also aboard the tram with the Duchess of Cornwall back in 2008, and her funeral takes place today.

Blackpool is a poorer place for the loss of both these stalwarts of the town.

n Coun Houldsworth’s funeral will be held on Thursday, March 15, at 1.30pm at St John’s Church, Church Street, Blackpool.