Obituary: John Beasley

Date published: 15 May 2017

John Beasley, former Mayor of Rochdale, councillor and Freeman of the Borough, died at Springhill Hospice aged 87 on Tuesday 9 May.

Born in the east end of London on the 1 December 1929 the second of four children, John was christened Edmund Beasley. His father was a dock labourer.

The family broke up when John was six. The children were sent to orphanages and for much of the time they were in different homes with no contact.
However, John and his elder brother George managed to keep in touch.

He picked up the nickname John at school, which stuck with him throughout his life, as there were three boys in his class named Edmund.

He didn't receive much of an education at school and left without formal qualifications.

After leaving school, John’s first job was in a laundry, filling the enormous drums with dirty clothes.

During this time, he played football in a local team where he was seen by a scout from Tottenham Hotspur and joined their youth squad. He got up at 6am and ran for an hour before work.

John did not have the opportunity to play in matches very often. Back then there were no substitutes so John was only able to play if the regular left back was ill or injured, but his involvement in the squad meant that he played with some first-class players, including Alf Ramsay and Billy Nicholson. Football practice in the evenings, with matches, playing or watching, on Saturdays, at White Hart Lane were his life for a time before he was called up for National Service.

John later went to work in a factory that made spectacle lenses. While working there he met Geoffrey Mills, an ophthalmic optician who encouraged him to get out of the "dead-end job". John had never come across the thought of higher education, but after several years of studying, mainly at evening classes after a full days’ work, he qualified as an optician. For several years, he worked in a practice at Edgware.

It was largely because of a chance discussion about politics in his digs which led to his joining the Labour Party in Islington North.

By 1956, he was a councillor and soon became chairman of the St Pancreas local health committee and a member of the Area Health Authority. He was later on the council in the London Borough of Brent.

In 1961, John met his future wife, Ann, at a Fabian Society weekend school studying local government. They married later that year and soon their sons Roger and Alan were born.

In 1974, they left the London area and came to Rochdale. John took over Blackhams opticians on Drake Street, which became Blackham and Beasley.

One of the attractions of Rochdale was easy access to the walking areas of the Pennines, Yorkshire Dales, and Peak District. Days away always had to be arranged around council and Labour Party meetings.

When the boys were young, they did not see much of their dad because so often it was a case of straight from work to either a council meeting, helping constituents with their problems or attending meetings of various local groups such as tenants’ associations, voluntary organisations and community centres. Therefore, holidays were an important part of family life. Most of these were walking holidays.

By the late 1970s, the Rochdale Labour party headquarters was very run down. With others, John started fundraising to get money for new headquarters. By 1982, there was enough money to buy a building on Oldham Road to become the new Labour party headquarters.

In 1980, he was elected councillor in Castleton - he served for four years.

When a by-election was called in Central and Falinge in 1985, a strong Liberal ward, a planned holiday was cancelled to allow John to fight the election. People said that they would deliver a few leaflets for him, but that he had no chance of winning. Through determination, organisation and hard work, he proved them wrong.

John retired as an optician in 1991 as the proposed tramlines were due to go through his optician's practice. As it turned out, these weren't built until over two decades later.

He became Mayor in 1994. This was the year of several anniversary celebrations in Rochdale’s history, including the 150 year anniversary since the first Co-op shop opened on Toad Lane, and also the Queen's visit to Rochdale.

John was a Labour and Co-operative councillor, the co-operative principles being dear to his heart. That year, the Co-operative Congress was held in Rochdale and John met co-operators from many countries, including Kobe in Japan, where they had built a copy of the Toad Lane shop.

During his year of office, his granddaughter, Holly, was born. He perhaps saw more of her in her earlier years than he had of Roger and Alan at that age. Family holidays this time were more seaside-oriented than climbing mountains.

In 2002, he stepped down as a councillor after 34 years service in London and Rochdale. He remained busy, being a trustee of the Labour headquarters and on the committees of Sudden Community Centre and the Council for Voluntary Service amongst others.

In 2004, he was made a Freeman of the Borough of Rochdale for his loyalty and hard work.

The flags at Rochdale Town Hall were flown at half-mast as a mark of respect after his death.

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