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Tributes paid after sudden death of campaigning Carlisle councillor

Tributes have been paid today to Carlisle’s campaigning left-wing councillor Willie Whalen, who has died suddenly from a suspected heart attack.

Willie Whalen photo
Willie Whalen

Mr Whalen, 67, was one of the county’s best known political activists, and regarded by many as feisty working class hero and a man of unshakeable moral principle.

His death, at his Brook Street home in the city yesterday, came just a week after he and his wife Jeanette celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary. They renewed their wedding vows while he was a patient at The Cumberland Infirmary following an earlier heart attack.

For years, Mr Whalen has been a dedicated campaigner, never afraid to confront the rich and powerful as he spoke up for those in need.

Both a city and a county councillor, his socialist politics was rooted in his deep Roman Catholic faith, and informed by a working life as a joiner and committed trade union activist representing building trade workers.

John-Paul Whalen, one of his four children, said today: “To sum up my father is very simple: he was a principled man and his aim in life was to fight injustice; to stand up for those who did not have a voice; and to ensure that the disadvantaged had someone fighting for them.

“He always put the truth before anything else.

“He was never afraid to stand up for what he believed and would stand up to anyone, no matter who they were.”

Fellow Carlisle trade unionist Craig Johnston, from the railworkers RMT union, spoke of how Mr Whalen worked tirelessly to help those in need. He said: “Willie was a one-stop shop for people who needed help and advice.

“There was always a steady stream of people at his door who needed help. In his politics, he was well to the left of anybody else I know in the Labour Party but his socialism came from his deep Roman Catholic faith.

“He was a lad from Raffles who wanted to care for people.

“His death is an awful thing for Carlisle, and terrible for the Labour movement, and the trade union movement.

“It’s also terrible for ordinary people who needed an advocate.

“He was always there to stand up for them, come hell and high water.”

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young said: “Everyone is still in a state of shock. I knew Willie for 35 years and he was a great fighter against injustice – a champion of the underdog.”

Over the years, Mr Whalen has fought for numerous causes, most recently throwing his weight behind people who bought former council flats whose freehold is owned by the social landlord Riverside.

He also battled to expose the dangers of asbestos in the building industry.

As well as his wife and four children, Mr Whalen leaves five grandchildren. Funeral details are yet to be released.

Have your say

I have just learned today of the very sad news of the death of Willie. I knew Willie whils't I was working as a Full time union offical for Ucatt. Willie sat as a member of Ucatts regional assembly representing the Cumbrian region,fighting relentlessly for the branches he represented and all of the members within those branches. The Willie that I knew had a passion for helping others, a committed Trade unionist who was not shy of voicing his opinion, shouting if necessary ( and he was not bothered who they were or who or what they represented )to get his point of view across. Willie was strong willed and a fighter for the underdog, he being the underdog several times through his illustrious life. Willie was also a proud man, and nothing made him prouder than getting elected into the local council and representing not just the constituents who voted him, but the wider community. Local authorities and the trade union movement would be a lot stronger if they had more Willie Whalens within.
To all of Willies family, I hope you read this. I am really sorry for your loss. Willie was a god man and a friend who helped me through some difficult times, I know many others will be saying the same. In the short space of time I knew Willie, I can honestly say, " It was a priviledge to have known him ". God Bless.

Posted by DAVID SHORT on 23 July 2014 at 22:13

I first met Willie at the Cumbria Forum some years ago. He always stood his ground to make his point on whatever the subject.His passing goes beyond his family, his constituents & friends in Carlisle. It is his long standing campaigns on asbestos matters where Willie's loss will be felt.
At the NTUC Conference Willie was the valued support where we would speak on asbestos matters, including other issues that affected Barrow & Cumbria. The last being after the floods of 2009 where Willie would once again second me with Craig also in support.
Willie refered to me as a good trade
unionist but Willie was the true unionist.
He will be missed among the asbestos support groups especially the support he gave to BARDS/CARDS here in Barrow including not only the county but wider afield.
Rest in peace.

Posted by Bob Pointer Cllr on 22 June 2014 at 14:54

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