Deaths in public service: Loss and hope

flaghalfmastTHE DEATHS of people in public service – known to us or not – always serve as a shock reminder of our own mortality.

Last Wednesday afternoon, whilst preparing for Full Council, I was alerted to news of the terrorist attack underway in Westminster.

Like many others I watched the horrific scene unfold as four innocent people were killed and many injured after a lone attacker drove his car at pedestrians and then into railings outside the Houses of Parliament.

The heroic actions of unarmed PC Keith Palmer, who bravely fought to stop the man entering the Palace of Westminster, touched us all.

As Full Council began at 6pm with a minute’s silence, the facts were becoming clearer. I was able to report that all three of the borough’s MPs were safe, but the atmosphere remained one of great shock and solemnity.

It soon emerged that PC Palmer’s selfless example was not an isolated act. Witnesses told how police and other emergency responders ran towards danger at the scene while directing the public in the other direction – and there were heart-warming stories of folk stopping to help those lying in distress.

PC Palmer’s efforts to protect the public were rightly highlighted, but his sacrifice also makes everyone feel uneasy and vulnerable.

It reminds us all of humanity: that no matter how healthy, professional and well-trained we are, our ultimate fate can be incredibly random.

Larkin TIn very different circumstances, Oldham Council has sadly also lost two highly-dedicated public servants – one elected member, and one senior officer – in recent days.

Councillor Tony Larkin had been known to be seriously ill for some time but that doesn’t make his departure any less sad.

A staunch and campaigning trade unionist, Tony was originally from Manchester but he took Royton to his heart and local people did the same: re-electing him to serve to them several times since 1996.

He was incredibly passionate about where he lived and, believe me, Tony never passed up an opportunity to lobby for a local cause on his residents’ behalf.

He was also a great listener and a man who saw representing people as a very serious public duty.

I know how difficult this time must be right now for his wife Penny, their three children and their family and friends. My heart goes out to them all.

CSUTTONIn contrast, the loss of Carrie Sutton, Oldham Council’s director of Education and Early Years last weekend, was completely out of the blue and has stunned everyone.

Carrie joined us in August 2015 and impressed many people, myself included, from day one.

Honest, passionate and no-nonsense in the pursuit of the right outcome, I knew almost instantly that she was someone I was going to enjoy working with.

Carrie had such determination and drive and worked tirelessly with partners like school heads and governors to improve young people’s prospects.

And she will be equally fondly remembered here for her personality as well as her work ethic. My sincere condolences go to her family and anyone fortunate enough to have known her.

At a time when we’re repeatedly told that people trust their public institutions and personnel less than ever before, examples of good public service like these – their values and  behaviours – shine light on the best path towards us regaining that trust.

Jean