An Appreciation by Councillor Derek Antrobus
Bernard Pennington, a Labour councillor for 53 years until 2015, died in hospital on Thursday, February 23rd, 2017.
He was born on May 19th, 1931, into a political family. His father, Joseph Pennington, was a founder of the Independent Labour Party in Walkden and was for many years Leader of the former Worsley Urban District Council. His mother, Edith, served as a school governor. His parents were stalwarts of the Walkden Congregational Church, a church founded on the principles of egalitarianism and justice which informed the family's political ethos.
Bernard was educated at St Paul's, Walkden, and then Farnworth Grammar School. He graduated in 1955 from Manchester University with a BSc in physics and went into teaching, first in Bolton and then for 22 years at Urmston Grammar School for Girls until his retirement in 1988.
His passion for education was political as well as professional. He gave long service to the city's Education Committee, was on the governors of Eccles Sixth Form College, Walkden North Primary School and James Brindley Primary School. He was for many years chairman of the governors of Wardley Grammar School and its successor, Wardley High School. He was a member of the Courts of both Manchester and Salford Universities and was for 20 years a governor of Salford College of Technology. In 1996 he was awarded an honorary MA by Salford University for services to education.
After retiring from teaching he set up Penland, his own gardening business – a return to his first job which was as a gardener at Parr Fold Park in Walkden. One of his contracts involved tending the garden of David Beckham and his girlfriend 'Posh Spice'.
Bernard was first elected a councillor in 1962 for the Worsley Urban District Council. He was Chairman of that Council in 1969 and also served as leader. In 1973 he was elected to both the newly created authorities: Salford City Council and Greater Manchester Council. He originally represented the Armitage, Mount Skip and St Mary's Ward and, from 1982, the Walkden North Ward. From 1986 until 1998 he was chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee and is unique in Salford in having overseen three different systems of local tax: the rates, the Poll Tax, and the Council Tax.
He was Salford's Millenium Mayor, serving in that office from 1999-2000. He had previously served as chairman of the 'shadow' Salford City Council in 1973. He was also Salford's first digital Mayor, the first to have his own webpage. He retired from the Council in 2016 after 53 years' service and was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to local government.
Bernard was a man who lived life to the full. He played for Walkden Cricket Club, Folly Lane ARLFC and Parr Fold Tennis Club. He was involved in squash, sailing and was a member of the Ellesmere Golf Club. He was a member of the Motor Club and, with his friend Wilf Simcock, won the prestigious White Rose Rally. In later years he took up ski-ing.
His interests were not confined to sport. He was a patron of the Salford Choral Society, president of the Walkden brass band, Worsley MENCAP and the Worsley Horticultural Society. He was chairman of the Walkden and District Scouts and the Worsley Citizens' Advice Bureau.
His zest for life was influenced by his encounters with serious illness. Twice as a young man he had tuberculosis, he overcame cancer in his later years and recently suffered a serious heart complaint.
This active life, personally and in the community, would not have been possible without the love and support of his family. His late wife, Jean, served as his Mayoress and they were married for 54 years until her sudden death in December 2010. The couple had two daughters, Julie and Catherine.
Bernard came across as a strong and forthright character, unafraid of criticising friend and foe alike. When he retired from the Council he took the opportunity to criticise the system of having a directly elected Mayor which he saw as putting too much power into the hands of one person. He was scathing about the Labour Government which came to power in 1997 for its decision to maintain Tory spending plans – which meant more cuts in council budgets.
But however strong and forthright he appeared, he was a deeply emotional man, moved by his compassion for those who suffered. When he was in hospital receiving cancer treatment, he was so affected by the plight of so many of his fellow patients and that led him to support cancer charities as Mayor. He broke down in tears when delivering one budget speech as he told of how the iniquitous Poll Tax was affecting the lives of ordinary citizens. And behind the scenes I know he was so deeply moved by the circumstances of some that he helped them with their Poll Tax payments form his own pocket.
Bernard was a man of great courage, conviction and compassion. He was a good comrade, an inspiration and a towering figure in the political and social history of our city. He lived life to the full but, most of all, his was a life worth living because of the good it bestowed on others. His father had once told him 'Try to leave this world a better place than you found it'. He did.