The Croydon Mayor who always had a smile and kind word

KAREN JEWITT pays tribute to former Croydon Mayor Wally Garratt, who has died this week

Croydon Council coat of armsWhen I first came on the council, Wally Garratt was my friend and guardian and fellow colleague in the Labour Party.

Wally, who served as a seaman in the Second World War, was first elected in 1986 representing Thornton Heath ward, where he lived with Sylvia, his wife, and their cat.

Wally was a great trade unionist, a founder member and chairman of the Croydon branch of British Pensioners’ Trade Union Action Association. Wally retired from the council in 2002, the same year he was made an Honorary Alderman of the town.

In 1994, Wally was very proud to be the borough’s first Labour Mayor under a first ever Labour administration in Croydon. He and Sylvia served the town well during his Mayoral year. He was admired and respected by everyone who met him during his mayoralty, they spoke with fondness of his friendly nature and smile for all the people he met.

When my son was at primary school, they had a “bring a grandparent to school” day. It was Christmas time, all the children were given the chance to serve tea and mince pies to the elders of our community. Our parents lived far away, so Paul asked if he could bring Wally as his surrogate grandad. Wally was delighted to be asked. He and Sylvia did not have children of their own, so this was a new experience for them. Wally took to the role with gusto. He would remind me when the time was coming up not to forget his invite.

When it was his Mayoral year, we had a phone call from the Mayor’s office telling us the Mayor would still like to continue his job as grandad. Wally duly arrived at St Chad’s School in style, in the big Mayoral car and wearing the chain of office. Paul was sent out to escort him in much to the amusement of the other children.

The drivers were excellent, they allowed the children into the old style Daimler – you can fit nearly a whole class in the back at a squash. Paul was thrilled to have such a celebrity grandad.

Wally was a well-known member of the Lord Napier Pub, where he enjoyed the jazz but most of all a pint at the bar where he could talk with friends and put the world to right. His buddies remember him with great fondness and humour. We called the Napier “Wally’s Surgery”.

If you walked along Thornton Heath High Street, everyone knew Wally. He smiled easily and he always (if infuriatingly) had a word for everyone who stopped him. You always ended up giving extra time to your journey allowing for Wally chat time.

I remember helping him with his leaflet round about 1985, Paul was in the buggy, my daughter Alison holding on, Wally very kindly offered to push Paul along and look after Alison while I ran up and down the stairs of the flats delivering his round. He thought he was being clever but I knew what his game was, Wally being Wally got away with it of course.

Honorary Alderman Garratt will be remembered by us all, but especially Adrian Denis who served Thornton Heath with him his entire political career, and of course Councillor Pat Clouder, who also served with him, both looked out for Wally and cared very much for him.

In memory of dear Wally, a much-loved friend and colleague.

  • Karen Jewitt has been a Croydon councillor for nearly 20 years

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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