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Requiem for a fallen hero

20 September, 2018 — By John Gulliver

A convoy of bin lorries sounded their horns

PASSERS-BY turned their heads and stared in bewilderment as the blaring sound of horns filled the air outside St Mary’s Church in Upper Street, Islington.

Slowly snaking past the church was a 20-strong convoy of bin lorries with the drivers sounding their horns – it was a kind of requiem for a fallen hero, a fellow council worker, a caretaker.

He wasn’t famous nationally, his name wouldn’t ring a bell, unless you were a council tenant or worked “on the bins” or wanted help from officialdom. But the people came in their hundreds to remember him.

Gary Doolan 

The day of the “requiem” was Monday, and mourners crowded St Mary’s Church for the funeral service of Gary Doolan, a former councillor, and a regional official of the GMB union.
A few hours later I was drawn into the Assembly Hall at the Islington Town Hall and the air was abuzz with the name of “Gary”. It was filled with scores of union officials, of course, but there were two or three hundred ordinary people there, many of whom had probably never stepped inside a local government building before – it was gathering of a part of England that is rarely reported by the mainstream media.

GMB’s flag was paraded

Criss-crossing lives over the years, I have found few who have made the same impact on people. Years ago there were several types like Gary among the Labour councillors in Camden – part of a golden post-war generation – but all that changed when career politics ran its course through the minds of ambitious men and women who ached for high office – either at local level or, as it turned out quite often, for a desk in Whitehall.

Would this explain the different roads Camden and Islington councils appear to be taking?

Gary never lost his basic working-class sense of generosity, candour and feeling of comradeship. You cannot pick that up studying for a political degree. Nor shadowing a politician whom you hope to replace one day.

Richard Watts, speaking at the wake

I bumped into Richard Watts, Islington’s Labour leader, and he immedi­ately – and he sounded genuine – started to rhapsodise about Gary the man who went into politics late in life, determined to defeat the Lib-Dems who had taken over the council.

So, this man unknown to the Lib-Dem political class, chose to fight the ward held by the Lib-Dem leader Steve Hitchens. And Hitchens, who felt his re-election was a foregone conclusion, canvassed in other wards – only to find that honest Gary made immediate friends on the doorstep, and won by 30 votes!

Thus was born a legend in Islington.

“Did you see the trucks outside the church?” Watts asked. He was still astonished by the sight, at the hours of organisation that had gone into it, as was another councillor Troy Gallagher.

It was the talk of the “wake” – a memory that wouldn’t go away. People like Gary don’t often appear among us.


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