FORMIDABLE Whitnash councillor Bernard Kirton is standing down from his county council seat after 36 years.
But the dedicated councillor – affectionately known as the “Whitnash Rottweiler” for his tenacity when he gets his teeth stuck into a cause – will continue to serve as a town councillor.
Bernard has served the community of Whitnash, and the wider Warwick district and county, for nearly half a century. He was chairman of the county council in 1996-97, and it would be easier to list the committees he had not served on down the years. He also served on Warwick District Council for 44 years before retiring in 2015.
The now 82 year-old is a Freeman of the Town of Whitnash, became the town’s first mayor in 1993, taking the chains of office again in 2003. He was also twice Whitnash Parish Council chairman.
Bernard was actually born in York, but his family moved to Whitley Bay in Northumberland in 1939, which is where he developed his North East accent.
After a stint in the Air Training Corps, he joined the Merchant Navy as a junior engineer officer at the age of 21, travelling to Australia and New Zealand.
When he finally left life at sea, there was little employment in the North East, and Bernard was forced to look for work elsewhere – which proved Whitnash’s gain when he arrived in the late 1950s to take up a position at the Warwick Power Station – on the site that is now home to the Tesco store on Emscote Road.
It was the beginning of his selfless service to the interests of the town and its people.
With others he founded the Whitnash Labour Party, determined to improve community facilities in the town.
But in the mid 1970s, Bernard fell out with the local Labour Party, and in 1977 he formed the Whitnash Ratepayers Association with fellow councillor Tony Heath, for which they both stood as independent councillors. It was from this point that their independent association would grow to take all the seats on the then Whitnash Parish Council.
Later, when rates were replaced by council tax, the Whitnash Ratepayers Association became the Whitnash Residents Association.
Whitnash has remained almost exclusively independent ever since, at all three levels of local government.
Bernard said: “When I started in local politics there were no real facilities in Whitnash at all, and when I look at it these days, it is like another world.”
One of Bernard’s first actions was to press for the mother and baby clinic at the old Women’s Institute Hall to be moved in to more suitable premises at the Methodist Church Hall. He continued his campaigning for Whitnash to have its own doctor and policeman.
He also pressed to see Whitnash Library extended to a “One Stop Shop” to include the Whitnash Town Council office in 2007.
The following year he launched the very first Whitnash Community Forum, which he has continued to chair ever since.
During his time, Bernard has also served as a governor of all the schools in Whitnash, as well as being chairman of Myton School governors. He also served as a governor at St Joseph’s School for 35 years, and only recently stood down.
Whitnash Residents Association has nominated former three times town mayor Coun Judy Falp to stand for them at the county council elections in May.
Speaking of Bernard, Coun Falp said: “He has the knack of being able to get hold of the person at the top of most organisations. He once got hold of Richard Branson’s PA to moan about how people with disabilities were being treated on his trains, and the head of the electric company, who lived in America, to complain about them trying to put terminal towers in residential Whitnash.
“I have learnt much from Bernard, and even with his own ill health and that of his wife and daughters, he has always been there to turn to for advice.”
His colleague, Tony Heath, added: “It has been an honour to work with Bernard, and to be his election agent all these years.”
The people of Whitnash can rest assured Bernard will continue to do all he can to make the town the best place it can be.
As he somewhat understatedly said: “Whitnash is very close to my heart”.
Bernard Kirton (fourth from left), putting up the flag for Remembrance Day in 1995 on Chapel Green with landlord of the Plough & Harrow, Alex Fulton, Whitnash councillor Peter Jackson, and Whitnash Mayor Harry Hughes. Photo courtesy of Roy Jackson. (s)
Bernard Kirton is standing down after 36 years on Warwickshire County Council. (s)