I first met Tony in about 1966 or 1967 when he came to talk to a group of students at Goldsmiths’ College in London about Poverty in Britain and the CPAG shortly after the inception of CPAG. On completing my degree I went to teach in Oxford and came to know Tony when I joined the Oxford branch of the Child Poverty Action Group. Tony had moved from being Secretary (a post now called Chief Executive) of CPAG on a national level to being probably the first welfare rights officer employed by a local authority based in Oxfordshire Children’s Department. Tony was our guide, mentor and activist in the small Committee of the Oxford CPAG of which I was Secretary.
Later I became a friend of the family having met and become friends with Sally who was later to become Tony’s wife. We are still in touch. Sally also worked in Oxfordshire Children’s Department and was on the Oxford CPAG Committee.
Tony was always quietly spoken, would listen attentively, share his observations and knowledge, though often in only a few words. As a speaker to a group of students he perched unassumingly on the front of the table put there for him to sit behind, he spoke softly as if he was talking more intimately to an individual or small group of people, sharing the awful facts about poverty in Britain in a clear, understandable and simple way. He had been part of a small group of leading academics at the LSE who wanted to expose the extent of poverty in Britain and challenge the then labour government about its inadequate policies. He was inspirational and seemed committed to doing what he could by campaigning against the injustice of an unequal society rather than staying in the ivory tower of academia.
When he was part of the Oxford CPAG, typically he did not want a position of office in the Group but preferred to lead inconspicuously as an ordinary committee member. Typically Tony suggested practical activity and we decided to concentrate the effort of our small group of volunteers on offering a limited Appeals Tribunal Service. We leafleted people who were queuing to sign on for their benefit at the employment exchange (called job centre these days), giving them information about the right to appeal against benefit decisions and how to contact us. Tony took some cases himself and coached us how to advise dissatisfied claimants on how to take up their case – usually about Supplementary Benefits as they were called at the time - and if that did not work to help them with their appeal.
We caught up with each other again in the 1970s when I and Sally and Tony had moved to London. Our children were similar ages so we were going through the different stages of family life at roughly the same time. Tony was working in the Cabinet office as a Government Advisor and while doing this demanding job he was typically modest and humble about what he was doing while making a huge contribution to government thinking. He could see the big picture and had goals based on fundamental principles, but also focussed on the practical detail of what could be achieved by a government, explaining and arguing for his suggestions at whatever level was needed. Barbara Castle, a minister with whom he worked, had a great deal of time for him and they remained friends until she died in 2002.
Tony also wrote a column in “New Society”, mainly about pensions – on which he was an expert – and always seemed quietly amused if I mentioned I had seen one of his pieces as if his writing was insignificant. However he effacively appreciated that I had noticed it.
When Tony retired he joined and became actively involved with Southwark Pensioners Association, an organisation which was run by older people, rather than for older people, the kind of organisation Tony thoroughly approved of. There he used his experience in pensions by campaigning for a better deal for pensioners, both locally and nationally with Southwark Pensioners Action Group, originally set up by Jack Jones who also lived in the area. He set up and was Treasurer of the Southwark Pensioners Forum, which helped to provide a valuable link between older people's organisations and the council.
In another strand of the Southwark Pensioners Association he founded the Southwark Explorers - taking large groups of mainly over 50’s to places in the UK and abroad. He did a lot of the organising and administration as well as leading and enjoying trips to all kinds of cultural, historical and other venues of interest.
Tony loved music. He started to learn the viola later in life, went regularly to concerts at Conway Hall, sometimes at the Wigmore Hall yet also came to hear the small socialist choir I sing in when it was performing locally. He sang choral works in choirs and was part of a singing group in the Southwark Pensioners’ Association known as Welcome Singers, which he founded. He believed everyone could sing and the choir attracted a mix of people who had different levels of ability in singing, were from different ethnic backgrounds and social classes and had members in their early sixties to their eighties.
For over 20 years he nursed and developed a music library, originally a London County Council collection that lent out scores. Typically he personally did the nitty gritty of administering library loans. It moved around to 7 different locations. Eventually, Tony got it transferred to a separate trust, renamed it Community and Youth Music Library and, with others, enabled it to transfer to Hornsey Library. He finally retired as a Trustee in last year.
Some memories of his personal life reflect what kind of a family man Tony was. For example when I was visiting the family home in the 1970s with our children, when Tony came home for lunch, despite a lot going on with young children, work and visitors, I was struck by the way he and Sally just stopped everything for a short quiet chat with each other about how things were going that day.
Whenever I went to his home for tea he always polished off a good quantity of cake and biscuits, doing some cooking himself. I was very envious that he could eat all that kind of thing and yet stay so slim.
Tony knew a large number of people. When Sally and Tony were out with myself and my husband he always seemed to bump into people who had spotted him and sought him out to say hello. They could be anyone from a top politician, someone involved in campaigning, academics, people from the pensioners club or neighbours.
I was touched by his robustness when his daughter died. At her funeral he read a tribute to his daughter from Sally and Tony despite the raw deep pain he felt.
Recently when I had planned to go on holiday with Sally and could not make it due to illness, Tony took my place on the study tour and went with Sally himself. This was despite his usual principled stand against flying. This was typical of his personal generosity.
At all levels Tony was a remarkable person. He was always active following his interests on several fronts and at several levels. He was gentle, kind and attentive, listened carefully and made astute and succinct observations. He was very knowledgeable and shared his knowledge in an unassuming way. He applied his sharp, incisive and talented mind and was creative in everything from how to tackle big societal issues to resolving small problems. He was always positive and constructive. He was courteous to and respectful of people he met. I enjoyed his quiet, sometime wry, sense of humour and I was fascinated by how much pleasure, even amusement, he got from regularly reading “Hansard”. The subgroup activities he set up and worked in with Southwark Pensioners Association demonstrate an all rounder who wanted to campaign, set up lines of communication between communities and the local Council and do some fun things with other people while being prepared to do the hard work of making those activities happen.
Tony was always willing to stand up and be counted through his words and actions. He was driven by a commitment to fairness and equality between people both individually and across groups in society. He was a family man who shared his wisdom and touched the lives of many. He will be widely missed and well remembered by many.
Jennie Sibley studied Sociology at Goldsmiths College (1965-68), then taught sociology, social administration and aspects of social work practice at Ruskin College in Oxford, (1969-73) then worked in the campaigning field as Secretary of the Ealing Association of the Disabled (now called Disability Connect) providing a mixture of information services, newsletter and campaign work as directed by local disabled people. (1973-5).Then she joined Hammersmith Social Services as the Principal Training Officer in the Social Services Department.(1975-9) She took a part time M.Sc. in Social Policy and Social Planning at LSE (1979-81) then joined Hounslow Social Services where she was Principal Officer for Community Services (managing Specialist Social Services for Adults with disability) (1981-89) and and later became Deputy Director of Social Services for strategy and after re-organisation for Commissioning, Contracting and Quality Assurance.(1989-95) On retiring from the local authority she retrained as an Aromatherapist and Reflexologist mainly doing remedial massage working in a clinic with Chiropractors and Physiotherapists, she also provided a service in people's own homes, residential /nursing homes and offices.(1995- present). She has sung with a socialist choir for 14 years and now largely retired is enjoying doing all those things retired people do and has found a wonderful and diverse network of older people and activities in Hounslow where she lives. She has two children and 4 grandchildren.