Tributes to the life and works of Adrian Dennis, the former Thornton Heath Labour councillor who died last week, have flooded in from a wide range of former colleagues and friends, including a former Deputy Mayor of London.
Dennis, who served his home ward on Croydon Council for 20 years and was made a Freeman of the borough and Alderman, died last Friday, March 27, due to complications after surgery in hospital. He was 67.
Born in Cornwall, Dennis had spent much of his career as a chartered town planner working for Southwark Council, where he helped oversee the developments of such prestigious projects as Tate Modern and The Shard. In the borough where he and his family made their home, he worked hard for the local Labour Party to the point where they won control of Croydon Town Hall for the first time.
Under Val Shawcross, the much-admired leader of the Labour group on the council at that time, Dennis served as chair of the planning committee and deputy leader.
Shawcross, who went on to become a London Assembly Member and later Sadiq Khan’s Deputy Mayor for transport, said, “Adrian was my deputy leader 1997-2000 and led the way on planning and regeneration for the council. He was so much more than that though.
“He was my thoughtful, wise friend, adviser and confidant. He had a vision and a heartfelt yearning for a better future for Croydon and was the best example to be found of a good, capable and decent man doing public service as a local councillor. I have so much to thank him for, not least for his kindness to me, and I am desperately saddened by his sudden death.
“I am sure that everyone who worked with him will remember his wry good humour, his deep knowledge and fascination with all thing technological and his steady, calm nature. As I sit here writing this I’m looking at the music centre he ‘built’ for me when I moved to my flat. An act of kindness that still makes me smile every day.”
Leni Gillman, who together with Dennis was one of the three Labour councillors elected for Thornton Heath ward for the first time in 1986, shared her memories of her former colleague with Inside Croydon: “I was very sad to hear of Adrian Dennis’s death last week. He was a long-standing Labour councillor and he will be much missed by his family and colleagues.
“I was one of the three councillors elected with Adrian to Croydon Council in 1986, the third being Wally Garrett, and we represented Thornton Heath ward. I remember him as a dedicated Labour member both on the council and in Thornton Heath, where Adrian lived. He was an enthusiastic election organiser and representative of our constituents, and he gave me great support and help throughout our campaigning.
“His professional expertise and skills as a town planner working for Southwark Council were greatly to our advantage when he became Labour’s spokesman on Croydon’s planning committee. He had unrivalled knowledge of the labyrinths of planning law, which he always deployed astutely, often with a cool sense of irony. I also remember him as a proud family man, and I send my sympathy to Flim and his children.
“Adrian leaves a legacy of honesty, integrity and decency which all politicians should strive to emulate.”
Mairead Barnes, the vice-chair of Croydon Disability Forum, said, “Adrian was chair of Croydon Disability Forum for the past six years. He knew everyone and how to contact them. Some people are lucky to have a good memory and he was thus equipped.
“For a man alleged not to suffer fools gladly, he had deep compassion for those less fortunate and he spent most of his life helping to ease the burdens of others, in spite of his own considerable suffering. His administrative ability was outstanding, as was his knowledge of peoples’ rights.
“We in CDF will miss him sorely. Our heartfelt sympathy goes to his wife Flim and his family.”
Callton Young is a Croydon councillor today, and as the chair of charity CACFO UK often worked alongside Dennis on community issues. “Adrian was my ‘civic duty rock’,” Young said, “whether helping me to navigate local politics, manage the challenges of chairing a local charity through difficult times or pulling off another successful Thornton Heath Festival, he was always there.
“He was Thornton Heath’s first among equals and I will miss him dearly.”
Alan Fox said: “Adrian and I have been friends since we met at Humphrey Davy Grammar School in Penzance in 1968. Adrian was a proper Cornishman through and through, whereas I joined the school in the Sixth year having moved to Penzance from Kent. Adrian gave me a friendly welcome and introduced me into his circle of friends. This close friendship endured ever since.
“We both went on to study at the Joint School of Geography at the London School of Economics/King’s College, University of London. Having been the Cornish junior fencing champion, Adrian was a member of the King’s College fencing team. We also continued to play hockey and ended up sharing digs in Streatham in the third year.
“Adrian was a very keen motorcyclist and always had fabulous machines. He and his wife Flim toured all over Europe and Scandinavia by motorbike. A bad traffic accident on the way to work at Southwark resulted in him having to give up motorbikes and sport in general. But it sparked his fight for those with disabilities. He would never be intimidated by bullies, and he would always keep to his principles and stand up for the oppressed. You can see that from his involvement with charities and helping people with disabilities.
“He was a devoted and loyal family man, and for him, family always came first. He was also a fantastic, loyal and trusted friend and would always do anything to help and support a friend. He will be sorely missed by his lovely family, and I will also miss him terribly.”
Andrew Sutton was another long-term friend and colleague. He said: “I met Adrian at Westminster City Council in the mid-70s when I joined the central area planning team at City Hall and we stayed in touch ever since.
“We were both keen motorcyclists at the time (before he fell off twice) and we often swapped stories of expeditions to the continent and especially Norway. Me on my own and then he with Flim a year later. To our shame, we used Lambeth Bridge as a short race track across the river, parting company at the south-side roundabout.
“In many ways, Adrian wasn’t really a team player at work. He had an independent mind on most subjects and single-mindedly developed planning policies, processed major planning applications including The Shard and fighting public enquiries when he was at Southwark. However, he worked well with and behalf of community groups on planning and housing matters where he was more of a team player working with, representing and supporting the public and users of public services.
“There was no topic that he knew less about than I did. Annoying sometimes!”
Pat Clouder, a current councillor for Thornton Heath ward, said: “I have known Adrian and his family for nearly 30 years. I first met him when I became an activist in the Labour Party when I came to Thornton Heath. He was not only the chair of the ward but also my local councillors and it wasn’t long before he had me delivering leaflets and knocking on doors.
“After a few years, he encouraged me to stand for the local elections to represent Thornton Heath. With his support, I was elected and joined the team with Adrian and the late Wally Garrett becoming a member of a very formidable team.
“Adrian’s knowledge in many areas, particularly planning and planning applications, and historical knowledge of Croydon and Thornton Heath was amazing. He was always there for me and over the years we worked closely together to improve Thornton Heath and work for all our residents utilising his amazing organisation skills.
“Adrian I will miss you so much as my mentor, as a colleague but mainly as my friend. Rest in peace.”
Clouder’s ward colleague Karen Jewitt said: “Adrian was my go-to person on anything to do with planning in my ward. His knowledge was second to none. He would guide me in the right direction, his advice was always spot on. I first met Adrian and Flim in the mid-1980s through Thornton Heath Labour Party. I would pick up leaflets to deliver in the ward. My son and daughter in the buggy, and off we would go. He taught me how to fold leaflets properly, as seemingly I was not doing it properly, especially his 1986 election campaign ones!
“I remember standing for hours outside the old Salvation Army building on Thornton Heath High Street on his election day with my red rosette as voters went in. He forgot all about me, left me there for six hours. I was under strict instructions not to leave until someone came to take my place. It will not surprise you to know we had words and somehow I came off the loser!
“We were always fundraising, jumble sales were a favourite, our children would dress up in the old clothes and play with the toys. They were good times filled with exceptionally fond memories that I will keep forever.”
Jerry Fitzpatrick was another Labour council colleague from the 1980s and ’90s. The councillor said “When Labour came to power for the first time in 1994, Adrian had the honour of being the party’s first chair of planning, and then in 2000 took on the successor post of cabinet member for planning, a position he continued to hold until he stood down from the council in 2006.
“He had a complete grasp of both principles and details. Adrian had a clear vision of a Croydon with well-designed and safe public buildings and spaces. He supported the development of attractive housing association estates with ample areas for play, and full regard paid to the needs of the disabled. He disliked the cramped and shoddy, and if any applications of this sort came before committee, they invariably got short shrift.”
Adrian Dennis is survived by his wife Flim Dennis, daughter Nening Dennis, son Philip Dennis and brothers Robert and Martin Dennis.
His funeral is currently being arranged but will be a small, private affair, given limitations on the size of gatherings due to the coronavirus crisis.
A memorial service is planned for when the crisis passes, and a date will be announced in due course.
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