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Former councillor Gary Doolan is remembered as a ‘true working-class hero’

Labour leader hails trade unionist Gary Doolan's battles in support of children, workers and elderly people

07 September, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Gary Doolan with wife Sharon

GARY Doolan set about helping people long before he became a Lab­our councillor in Islington.

The former St Peter’s ward member was a loyal trade unionist, much-loved father and grandfather and dedicated activist, playing a prominent role in the introduction of universal free school meals in the borough.

He died a week ago yesterday (Thursday), aged 61, after battling throat cancer.

Even during his illness, diagnosed in 2016, he sought to help others. Gary revealed to his elder daughter, Kerry, how he bought a young patient with breathing difficulties a games console to help him through his illness.

Kerry, 40, said: “We were walking around the ward and he told me a story about a young boy who had very bad breathing problems and the hospital did not have a PlayStation.

“And he said to this boy he was doing physiotherapy with: ‘If we walk from here to the hospital, I’ll buy you one.’ He said: ‘You should’ve seen his face.’

“He did like to tell us lovely stories, but he never bragged.”

Gary was born and raised in Islington by his mother Dolly, 97, and Christopher, who died five years ago aged 93. He attended Hungerford Primary School and Holloway School before going on to work as a photographic technician and engineer.

After marrying his childhood sweetheart, Sharon, they moved to Cluse Court, where he became a Town Hall-employed caretaker on the estate.

He joined the GMB union in 1976 and later became a union rep, branch secretary in 1996 and, most recently, political and industrial development officer for London region.

Gary was elected councillor in 2006, serving for 12 years before deciding not to contest May’s elections.

Kerry, a mother-of-four, said: “I was surprised when he became a councillor, but it made so much sense knowing the person he was. His passions were to fight for everybody and anybody he could help.

By the Thames with the grandchildren that ‘were his world’

“He was saying about social housing that there wasn’t enough. That was a big concern of his – about the buildings going up and the working class who cannot afford the homes.”

Younger daughter, Hay­ley, 35, said: “He was working class and he was proud of that.”

Gary told the Tribune in May that his health had contributed to his decision to step down from the council, as well as becoming tired of watching the Town Hall budget shrink.

He had said he did not go into politics to “negotiate cuts”.

He helped lead the pioneering campaign for free school meals for all primary school and nursery-aged children, introduced in 2010.

Gary would often take his family with him canvassing for MP Jeremy Corbyn, before his days as Labour leader.

In his spare time, he was an avid golfer, spending time on the golf range in Barnet even when he was unwell.

“His grandchildren were his world,” Kerry said. “In the last weeks and days, that’s what upset him the most. He promised us to make the kids smile and that we can’t let them forget him.”

Kerry, an Islington Council facilities manager, was so inspired by her father’s work, she is now considering becoming a union rep and running for a council seat.

“He will have a legacy and I feel it’s in my blood too,” she said.

Councillor Troy Gallagher, of Bunhill ward, knew Gary from 2004, serving alongside him on council committees.

He was at his bedside in recent weeks. “We were very close and he was a true working-class hero,” he said. “Gary was never one to mince his words. He would give it to you straight whether you liked it or not.

“He said to me: ‘Until people experience poverty, they don’t know what it is like. Poverty always leaves a taste in your mouth so we must make a difference and make sure no one suffers like that’.”

Cllr Gallagher recalled how Gary loved singing Frank Sinatra’s My Way and the Irish folk ballad The Fields of Athenry.

Mr Corbyn, Islington North MP, said: “Thanks to Gary’s hard work, many children eat properly who wouldn’t otherwise have done so, workers are paid a proper and fair wage for their work and people get the care they deserve when they’re older.”

Gary is survived by his mother, Dolly, wife Sharon, sister Elaine, daughters Kerry and Hayley, their partners Orhan Hassan and Charlie Paddock, and six grandchildren, Hollie, Lillie, Leo, Nancy, Harry and Rosie.

He took on his nephews, Darren and Lee Doolan, as his own when his brother Michael died aged 30.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary’s Church, in Upper Street, at noon on Monday, September 17, before moving to Islington and St Pancras Cemetery, in East Finchley, at 2pm. A wake will take place at the Assembly Hall from about 4.30pm.

Donations can be made to Macmillan Cancer Support.


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