OBITUARY: ‘Steve Hitchins was a giant of Islington political life’
Former Lib Dem council leader and chairman of Whittington Hospital, dies suddenly at 68
27 September, 2019 — By Emily Finch
Steve Hitchins, who led Islington Council from 1999 to 2006, suffered a suspected heart attack on Tuesday night
THE “father” of Islington Liberal Democrats and former chairman of the Whittington NHS Trust has died.
Steve Hitchins, who was at the helm of the hospital in Archway until June this year, died suddenly on Tuesday night from a suspected heart attack.
He was 68 years old.
Mr Hitchins, who lived in St Peters Street, will be best remembered for leading Islington Council from 1999 to 2006 during the height of Lib Dem power when they held a huge majority over the Labour Party.
His wife, Baroness Sarah Ludford, who is a Lib Dem peer and a former Clerkenwell councillor, said: “He was about improving life for local people, that’s what he was dedicated to.
“He was a firm Liberal Democrat but in a sense he wasn’t political because what he cared about most was making the council and Whittington Hospital better.”
The couple met 45 years ago when they were both university students.
“We were chalk and cheese, he was an engineer at Oxford while I studied economics and international history at LSE,” she said.
She described him as “extremely determined” with the ability to “always soldier on”.
Mr Hitchins’ former colleagues described him as a “giant” when it came to political life in Islington.
Mr Hitchins with his wife, Baroness Sarah Ludford, a Lib Dem peer and a former Clerkenwell councillor
“When the history books are written about Islington Council he will be a standout name who transformed the borough,” said former Lib Dem councillor James Kempton, who took over from Mr Hitchins as council leader in 2006.
Mr Hitchins first joined the council in 1990 to represent St Peter’s Ward when there were just three Lib Dem councillors. But within 12 years the main chamber at the Town Hall would see 38 councillors wearing yellow pins.
“He had a clear ambition that the Lib Dems would clear up the mess left by Labour. Steve had enormous energy,” said Mr Kempton.
Lucy Watt, the former deputy leader of Islington Council, said: “He was the father of Islington Liberal Democrats. He encouraged many of us to stand for council who would never have otherwise had the confidence to do so.”
Mr Hitchins’ life-saving leg amputation at the Whittington was chronicled in the Tribune back in 2016. He had to be rushed to the hospital’s A&E department where he was treated for a deadly bacterial infection. He spent 12 days in intensive care with no recollection of what went on around him.
But his first words were not about his own welfare but about the planned government inspection of the hospital.
He had joined the hospital in December 2013 following a year of turmoil over plans to sell off a third of the hospital’s land along with laying off hundreds of staff.
But Mr Hitchins faced controversy himself over his board’s handling of a contract between the Trust and a construction company linked to the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower before the fire disaster. The hospital later backed out of the deal.
Siobhan Harrington, chief executive of the Whittington, praised Mr Hitchins as someone “passionate about our work and our staff”.
“During the time that he was our chair, Steve worked extremely hard to ensure that we provided the best possible care to local people,” she said.
Mr Hitchins leaves behind his wife, Baroness Sarah Ludford.