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Jerry Williams, Camden’s first black mayor

Calypso-dancing railway worker helped transform Talacre wasteland

07 September, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Jerry Williams with former Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson

JERRY Williams, who has died aged 91, was a trail blazer: the first black Mayor of Camden, he had moved from the Caribbean in the 1950s and created a legacy that will last generations.

As a community activist in Kentish Town, he was crucial to turning a bombed out patch of waste land in Prince of Wales Road into what is now a public open space, and his work helped establish the well-used Talacre sports centre. In 1957, Jerry moved to London and at first settled in the Paddington area before moving to Princess Place, Kentish Town, in the mid-1960s.

He became a railway guard for the Midland Line and worked on goods trains running out of St Pancras. He was a member of the National Union of Railwayman and was active, going to its conferences and working as a shop steward. He joined the Labour Party too and was selected as a councillor in Kentish Town in the 1970s, before becoming Mayor in 1988. His work at Talacre had been motivated by seeing children struggling to find room in the streets to play. Jerry was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1926, the eldest of seven children. His father Clayton was a seaman who would go on ships from the Caribbean to Cardiff with cargoes of sugar cane.

He travelled to the United States as a young man, where he had an aunt in Boston and worked as an apple picker for a time. On his return to Barbados he learnt carpentry as a trade. He met his wife Verona in the early 1950s at a dance and they had four children. Jerry had many passions. As a young man he was a keen boxer and continued to follow the fight game, never missing a big bout. He loved cricket and set up a team with other people from the Caribbean.

The former mayor (pink shirt, front row) with his family

He would support both the West Indies and England, and enjoyed all sports, often following events while meeting friends for a pint and a plate of jellied eels in a pub in Chalk Farm on a Saturday afternoon. He was a good cook and could turn his hand to traditional Caribbean cuisine. He was a superb dancer too and continued dancing right up to his final days. He loved 1940s swing, 50s jitterbug music and other styles such as calypso, ska and reggae. Jerry above all loved life, and loved people. He enjoyed himself, had a sense of fun, and it was this that also guided his politics: he saw the need for everyone to have the opportunity to find time to enjoy life, as well as the resources to do so.

His funeral will be held at St Martin’s Church, Gospel Oak, on September 13 at 11am.


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