DEL SMITH R.I.P.
In the mid-60s when working at Lee Cooper’s factory in Faringdon Avenue (Harold Hill) Del also worked there. Later, in the ’70s/80s/90s I was in Ford’s Dagenham Safety Department in which was his Del’s late father Arthur, so knew the family well. Most of Del’s working time was as a self-employed carpenter, a trade in which he was skilled, much work came by personal reputation and previously satisfied customers’ recommendations. Customers included many from our Labour/Trade Union ranks. Before, during and after his time as a Havering Councillor Del was a committed and enthusiastic Harold Hill community activist and campaigner on numerous issues. That’s why, nowadays, he’s still so well remembered by many Estate residents, long after his relocation to the village of Insch in Aberdeenshire.
Del made a Council Chamber debut in 1986 when winning in a now defunct Hilldene Ward, Labour’s other’s successful candidates being Dennis Cook & Bessie Whitworth RIP. He didn’t contest the 1990 local elections but, perhaps missing municipal action, earned selection for a 1991 Gooshays Ward by-election (caused by resignation of Sean Willis) when he finished streets’ ahead of an equally hard campaigner in Liberal Democrat Terry Hurlstone RIP. He took the 1994 election in that Ward by storm when topping the poll with Bill Harrison & Mike Davis also winning seats. Come the 1998 Council election Del was no longer in the Labour Party and stated he’d no wish to stand against former Labour colleagues – as Yve Cornell, Bill Harrison & Kevin Robinson (now Southend’s Deputy Mayor) convincingly claimed 3 Gooshays Ward seats. Del did so much for the people of Harold Hill – both as Councillor – and before-and-after his period of elected public service.
In 2003 Del was a founder member of “The Friends of Dagnam Park” and ran their website until his demise on August 2nd. – despite living in Scotland. The group emerged into one of the most effective campaigning organisations in the Borough. What ignited it’s arrival was the amount of neglect and anti-social behaviour in a large and lovely Dagnam Park.
Del was twice recently a hospital patient for serious illness and a few months’ ago requested no further treatment, as it was so painful. He never returned to hospital and accepted his forthcoming demise at home on August 2nd, where he spent most of his time asleep as he was so weak. He knew what was coming his way and accepted it with bravery.
The most controversial time during his year as Havering’s Mayor was when appearing at Romford’s Remembrance Day Parade in a suit – not in traditional Mayor’s robes with pointed hat. Many wrote to local newspapers stating he’d betrayed the deceased of those being honoured by not dressing properly. Ex-Service organisations protested. A week after an avalanche of criticism, many wrote to support Del, saying his choice of dress wasn’t important as long as he was there to take a salute and show respect. Opinion becomes more modern as years roll by. One critic was another former Havering Mayor, ex-Royal Navy man Conservative Ron Latchford RIP – who incidentally attended Havering Fabian Society ‘open’ meetings for years. On reading that critics were outnumbered by supporters of Del, Ron wrote to local newspapers stating he’d considered supporters’ logic and changed his mind, admitting he’d got his opinion wrong in the first place.
In March 1996 Del took centre stage. along with fellow Harold Hill Councillors Dennis Cook (Hilldene Ward), Mike Davis (Gooshays Ward) & Tony Hunt RIP (Hilldene Ward). They were at loggerheads with Council leader Arthur Latham (a former MP) over a number of issues mainly affecting Harold Hill and his alleged dictatorial control. The “Gang of Four” as they became known – and still are to this day – broke from Labour to form “The Socialist Group” which reduced the Party’s presence in the Chamber to 26. All 4 were suspended from Labour membership. Soon afterwards another Labour Councillor resigned the whip but pledged to continue voting with Labour. Their defection was enough to tilt the scales against Labour. Reaction split both ways. Some never forgave the quartet for dumping Labour out of power, but as all were so popular, many remained friends for all time. One of Del’s biggest critics was former Council leader Wilf Mills RIP who wanted nothing to do with him – but buried the hatchet before his own fairly recent departure. When Tony was at death’s door, in a now-demolished Oldchurch Hospital for months after contracting legionnaires disease he was a recipient of Arthur’s get well message. Tony recovered but still died at a young age, his popularity shown by a standing room only funeral at Corbet’s Tey Crematorium followed by a full-house gathering in “The Railway” public house near Hornchurch Underground Station. At his funeral a eulogist stated that Tony often regretted taking the action he did. Arthur Latham had the good grace to write kind words for an obituary for a local newspaper, in which he described Tony as “the least culpable of the four”. Mike went on to work hard for the Labour Party in election campaigns and when readmitted, stood for them. Dennis has always been supportive of Labour Party activities/campaigns and frequently attends Havering Fabian Society meetings. As for Del, he was one of many who returned to Labour when Jeremy Corbyn was elected Party Leader but resigned when Bro. Corbyn was forced to continue his political career as an Independent. Soon after rejoining he went to his first Labour Party function – a West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine CLP Christmas social. What a coincidence as he met that CLP’s former Vice Chairman Harry Bygate – another former Havering Labour Councillor who’d headed north after retirement. Harry, a then National Union of Seamen full-time Officer, topped the 1971 poll in South Hornchurch Ward with fellow elected colleagues Harry Rivers & John Whysall (who stood twice for Parliament at both 1974 General Elections in a newly created Upminster Constituency). Sadly Harry left us in April 2019.
Del loved local history and wrote articles at length about Harold Hill on the Friends of Dagnam Park website. He wrote the history of St.George Church in Chippenham Road. On Harold Hill he resided in Edenhall Road for years just a few doors away from Hilldene Ward Councillor Reg Whiting RIP, who he always gone on with very well, before moving to Tring Gardens near a now boarded-up Havering College Quarles Campus. Years after settling in Scotland he appeared, by telephone, in an hour-long ‘live’ show on a now defunct Link FM radio station – hosted by Roni O’Brien (now broadcasting on Time FM). She asked him about many local issues and, such was his knowledge of Havering, he proved he knew as much while off our scene than when part of it. That’s because so many of his friends kept in contact, and he read a Romford Recorder every Friday on their free website. Del was a critic of the infamous Gallows Corner roundabout – his last public quote in the Recorder was earlier this year when they featured the 50th anniversary of a “temporary” flyover erected for 15 years’ use in 1971. Del said it’d been up so long it should be “listed“.
To his widow Gaynor and 3 offsprings sincere condolence is expressed by so many. We say farewell to one of Harold Hill’s best known residents – and one who leaves us with many memories of a life so well spent.