Hundreds gather to celebrate life of John Blackie

Laughter rang out and tears were shed as hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the life of Upper Dales community champion John Blackie today.

Members of the local community joined with Cllr Blackie’s family and friends, as well as council officers and councillors, NHS bosses, police officers and many more people at the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes.

Among those who gave moving speeches was Cllr Blackie’s partner Jill McMullon and daughter Caroline Jenkins.

The 70-year-old father-of-three, who had seven grandchildren, died following a 12-year battle with cancer in July at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, an infirmary which he had been dedicated to protecting.

In an emotional speech, Friarage Hospital boss Dr James Dunbar, who was also Cllr Blackie’s physician, said he had at times been on the receiving end of Cllr Blackie’s campaigning, but he “massively respected him for that”.

He said: “The reason the Friarage Hospital continues to thrive is in no small part due to John Blackie’s political influence.

“When it became apparent that it was to be his last battle, we had a conversation with Jill and his family about where would be his place that he would want to spend his last time. We always, if at all possible, try to get people back to their own beds, but John decided he wanted to stay with us, and we felt very honoured by that because he was part of our family too.”

Cllr John Blackie.

North Yorkshire County Council’s chief executive Richard Flinton and corporate director Gary Fielding told how Cllr Blackie “could be quite a Marmite character with some” and had been dubbed the “Hurricane from Hardraw”, the Upper Dales village where he lived, as “like a hurricane he was a real force of nature”.

The event, which was compered by radio presenter James Wilson, heard how following Cllr Blackie’s death in July and after parts of Wensleydale and Swaledale had been devastated by flash flooding, Richmond MP Rishi Sunak and county council leader Councillor Carl Les had been visiting the area when they stopped to ask residents their views on the clean-up operation.

Mr Flinton said: “One farmer said ‘it would go so much quicker and so much better if John Blackie was in charge of it’. The other farmer leaned across and said ‘well aye if John Blackie was here it wouldn’t have rained in the first place’.”

Representing Richmondshire District Council, of which Cllr Blackie was both a Conservative and Independent leader, councillors Linda Curran and Stuart Parsons told how fiercely he had battled for his communities.

John Blackie’s partner Jill McMullon and colleague Cllr Stuart Parsons.

Cllr Curran said: “You couldn’t help but admire his knowledge, understanding of issues and his flair for bringing innovative and creative solutions. The huge amount of commitment he put into everything, the energy that he had, made me feel tired watching him.

“John was an enigma. He was charming and he was challenging. To anyone who is a new councillor I would say just try to be a little bit like John Blackie and you will be a success and serve your community very well.”

Cllr Parsons said while Cllr Blackie had been nominated for a national honour by more than 400 members of the Upper Dales community, that had been left in a Whitehall in-tray as “the government didn’t really enjoy John”.

He added: “What they failed to recognise was that John had done what every single one of us should be doing and that is looking after everybody else in our community. In a rather odd way John was finally punished by central government for that and that is so very wrong.”

Ms McMullon concluded the celebration saying: “He was my hero, your hero, he was a legend. He was simply the best.”