Remembering Roy Preston

Roy (right) in characteristic pose: at a Labour Party street stall on Old Dover Road in 2010, with fellow activists Rita Stephen and Pat Boadu-Darko

I have not posted anything to this website for several weeks. The reason in large part is due to the shocking news that Roy Preston – a good friend, chair of Blackheath Westcombe Branch Labour Party,  a former Labour councillor in Greenwich, and occasional contributor to this website – died suddenly on June 25th.

Three weeks on, it is still hard to believe.

Roy was an inspiration. He will be remembered well for his distinguished council career (see Greenwich.co.uk’s tribute at http://www.greenwich.co.uk/news/08528-tributes-paid-to-former-councillor/) – even though he stepped down as a councillor some 26 years ago, partly on Doctor’s orders after a heart bypass operation. He was also known for the energy and commitment he showed, despite his heart problems and the mobility problems he had suffered ever since contracting polio as a young boy, throughout his so-called retirement. Roy played a key role in Greenwich politics throughout the 1990s and 2000s and right up until the day he died – as secretary of Blackheath branch, school governor convenor, chair of Greenwich and Woolwich constituency Labour Party, and latterly chair of Blackheath Westcombe ward Labour Party.

But above all he will be remembered for all the best Labour values he stood for: decency, compassion, fairness and democracy. Roy was no time-server: he was a pragmatic idealist who saw the Labour Party as a way of liberating hearts and minds, achieving social justice and ensuring everyone could reach their own potential. Roy and I didn’t agree on every issue, but we didn’t need to to remain friends. In fact, Roy thrived off friendly debate, disagreement and exchange of ideas. And unlike many politicians, there was no trace of an ego in Roy – he was not in it for himself, but to help others. He was a great mentor to many younger members of the Party, me included, seeing them as an opportunity, not a threat.

Roy was well known and respected not just in the Labour Party (in which he had been active for almost 60 years, and in Greenwich since 1969) but as a great family man, on the terraces of Charlton Athletic where he was a regular attender, at Thomas Tallis school where he was a governor for many years, and on The Keep, the close on Blackheath where he lived for more than 20 years with his wife Pat, and on whose residents’ group he served.

Roy had a small, family funeral last week and a larger memorial event will be held in a few months’ time. Everyone who knew Roy will miss him, and wish his wife Pat and their children Karen, Alison and Nick all the best at this sad time.

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4 Responses to Remembering Roy Preston

  1. Mary says:

    Alex- thanks – and there are many more people who worked closer with Roy and more recently than I did. I hope they add something here and it isn’t just left to a constant commentator like me. But this should be about Roy. Every Labour Party meeting I have been to recently there have been many many tributes paid to this amazing man.

    In the late 1970s I was working for North Charlton Project – and Roy was the local councillor charged with keeping an eye on us. I remember many occasions when we went to him for support and advice – and his care for the people of that area. Then, as now, North Charlton was undergoing many changes and there were many challenges. Thanks, Roy, for that.

    The other thing – more personally – he ran the campaign in Blackheath Ward when I stood as council candidate in 1998. The organisation was, needless to say, immaculate – and we came pretty close to winning what was always regarded as a safe Tory ward – so thanks, again Roy.
    We will all – really really miss you.

  2. Denise Scott-McDonald says:

    When I first heard the news about Roy Preston’s death, I was having a pub lunch with one of my good friends. The announcement came via an email from Rita Stephens, one of our long-time party members and activist. She had sent it to a handful of Blackheath Westcombe Branch members. I could not believe it when I first read the words, and I instantly started phoning around to find out more. As I waited for people to call me back, I decide to tell my friend, who I was having lunch with, and is in fact a Tory supporter and a huge Margaret Thatcher fan about my friend Roy. And she was completely amazed.

    I told her three things about Roy. First, he had this incredible energy and a huge appetite for life. From the first time I met Roy to the last time I was with him. He always gave you 110 percent; whether that was helping out with simple photocopying at the Party office on Woolwich Road or going door-to-door talking to voters about Labour, Roy always gave it everything.

    Second, he was very intelligent and was an avid reader. But his intellectualism was not that dry academic stuff with lots and lots of lofty words. It was always refreshing and thought-provoking, and fascinating to listen to. Whether he was talking about Aneurin Bevan’s book ‘In Place of Fear’ and discussing British society, or Gore Vidal and debating the American political system, you also came away being challenged and inspired to do your part to bring about change.

    And finally Roy always had time for me and this was the case from the first time I met him. When I was new to the Labour Party, a group of us were sitting in a pub together after a morning of campaigning; I took it as an opportunity to find out more about the Party. Roy was so calm and patient with me as I fired continues questions at him. He even drew a diagram in my notebook to help me understand how the Party works. But it did not stop there, since then he took countless phone calls from me, we had many discussions in coffee shops, and he even sat with me after meetings, each and every time he was always patient and offered his opinion and advice.

    I will greatly miss him. Our meetings will not be the same without him. But I am grateful that I had this wonderful opportunity to know a person like him.

    Denise Scott-McDonald
    CLP Secretary, Greenwich & Woolwich

  3. Well written, Alex. The best tribute we can pay Roy is for us all to fearlessly uphold the values we believe in.

  4. Claudette lawrence says:

    A great article, I miss Roy he has been a great support to me working with me as a Disablity Officer. He was such a patient man. I still cannot beleive he has passed away and hope that I can carry on fulfilling the role of Disablity officer as a legacy to him as I know this is what he wanted me to do. I am honored to have known him for the short time i did.

    Claudette Lawrence Disablity Officer

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