Formidable Whitnash County Councillor Bernard Kirton, affectionately known as the “Whitnash Rottweiler”, has announced he will be standing down from his county council position in May.
Cllr Kirton has served the community of Whitnash, the wider Warwick District, and Warwickshire County for nearly 50 years.
He is a Freeman of the Town of Whitnash, and was its first Mayor in 1993-94. He served as Mayor again in 2003–04, and was also previously Chairman of the Whitnash Parish Council in 1979-81 and 1992-93.
Despite not being from the area originally, he has said: “Whitnash is very close to my heart.”
Bernard was actually born in York, but his family moved to Whitley Bay in Northumberland in 1939, which is where he developed his north-eastern accent.
After a stint in the Air Training Corps, he joined the Merchant Navy as a Junior Engineer Officer at the age of 21, travelling to Australia and New Zealand with the Shaw Saville Line. Following this, he continued his naval career and joined the Blue Star Line.
When he finally left the life on the ocean wave, there was sadly very little employment in the North East of England, and therefore Bernard was forced to look for work in other areas. He first moved to Whitnash in the late 1950s, to take up a position at the Warwick Power Station – on the site that is now home to the Tesco store on Emscote Road.
At this stage, he started to become involved in the local community, and with others, founded the Whitnash Labour Party, determined to improve community facilities in the town.
In the mid-1970s, Bernard fell out with the local Labour Party, and in 1977, he formed the Whitnash Ratepayers Association with fellow councillor Tony Heath, for which they both stood as independent councillors. It was from this point on that their independent association would grow to take all the seats on the then Whitnash Parish Council.
Later, when rates were replaced by council tax, the Whitnash Ratepayers Association became the Whitnash Residents Association.
Whitnash has remained almost exclusively independent ever since, at all three levels of local government.
Cllr Judy Falp said: “He has the knack of being able to get hold of the person at the top of most organisations. He once got hold of Richard Branson’s PA to moan about how people with disabilities were being treated on his trains, and the head of the electric company, who lived in America, to complain about them trying to put terminal towers in residential Whitnash!
“I have learnt much from Bernard, and even with his own ill health and that of his wife and daughters, he has always been there to turn to for advice.”
Bernard was first elected to Warwickshire County Council to represent Whitnash as an independent in May 1981, and has remained the Whitnash county councillor ever since. He served as chairman of the county council in 1996- 97, having been elected as vice- chair in 1995-96.
During his many years as county councillor, he has served on many committees of the county council. He has been a very active councillor, who has been involved at every level.
In describing his early involvement in Whitnash affairs, Bernard said, “When I started in local politics there were no real facilities in Whitnash at all, and when I look at it these days, it is like another world.”
As the first Labour Party member on what was then Warwick Rural District Council in the 1970s, one of Bernard’s first actions was to press for the mother-and-baby clinic at the old Women’s Institute Hall to be moved in to more suitable premises at the Methodist Church Hall. He continued his campaigning for Whitnash to have its own doctor and policeman.
His involvement has never stopped, and he was instrumental in having Whitnash Library extended to a “One Stop Shop” to include the Whitnash Town Council office in 2007.
In 2008, he launched the first Whitnash Community Forum, which he has continued to chair ever since.
During his time, Bernard has also served as a governor of all the schools in Whitnash, as well as being chairman of the governing body at Myton School. He served as a governor at St Joseph’s School for 35 years, and only recently stood down.
He represented Whitnash at Warwick District Council for 44 years, and held virtually every position on the district council including Chairman in 1977 – 78, and again in 1997 - 98. In 2015, he retired from Warwick District Council, but continued as a county and town councillor.
On his retirement from the District Council, council leader Cllr Andrew Mobbs, described Cllr Kirton as an ‘exceptional councillor’. He added: “I can’t thank him enough.”
Whitnash Town Council said: “Over his long years of service, he has intervened in problems presented to him by hundreds of residents, always fighting for their rights. He has never been afraid to stand up and say what he believed in, and what he thought was best for Whitnash.
“As someone with vast experience of all levels of local government in our district for the last half a century, the ‘Whitnash Rottweiler’, Bernard Kirton will be missed by many.”
His colleague, Tony Heath, said: “It has been an honour to work with Bernard, and to be his election agent all these years.”
Whitnash Residents Association has nominated the former three-times Mayor of Whitnash, Cllr Judy Falp, to stand for it at the county council elections in May.
Cllr Falp is herself a Whitnash Town and District councillor, with a wealth of experience over many years. In addition to her three stints as Mayor, she has been a Whitnash Town Councillor for 21 years, and a Warwick District Councillor for 13 years, as well as being a former Chairman of Warwick District Council.
She was the driving force behind the working group that created the now adopted Whitnash Neighbourhood Plan, and she is currently leading the working party seeking to develop a new community hub for Whitnash, having already secured £½ million in funding.
She is the secretary of the Whitnash Residents Association, and speaking of her illustrious colleague, Cllr Falp said: “Bernard Kirton will be a very hard act to follow, but he will be there to share his expertise if I need it.”
Bernard Kirton will still continue to serve Whitnash as a member of Whitnash Town Council.