Obituary: Edgar Evans, lifelong stalwart of the co-op movement

Edgar Evans, a former president of Bath Co-op Society, director at Co-operative Insurance Society and vice-chair at the Co-operative Wholesale Society, has died aged 83. He also served as secretary...

Edgar Evans, a former president of Bath Co-op Society, director at Co-operative Insurance Society and vice-chair at the Co-operative Wholesale Society, has died aged 83.

He also served as secretary of Bath Co-operative Party and was a Labour/Co-op councillor on Bath city council – winning his seat at the age of 22, in 1956.

The same year, he was elected to the board of the Bath Co-op Society. In 1965 he became the president – at the time, aged 32, he was the youngest person to have held the role.

During his time at the head of Bath Co-op, he pioneered new retail innovations including discount supermarkets, which he had observed in the US on a 1961 delegation to study merchandising and sales technique.

Back home, he led Bath through the opening of the first discount supermarket operated by any co-op in the UK, and was at the forefront of the introduction of self-service shopping.

His passion for innovation continued over the decades, and he recently campaigned successfully for student discounts.

He was an elected member of several local co-op committees, such as the South Western Co-operative Housing Society and South Western Co-operative Convalescent Fund, and played a key role in Co-op business and community activities.

Between 1981 and 1998, he was a director and later vice chair of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, where he also chaired the member relations board. He was also a director of the Co-operative Insurance Society and a member of the International Co-operative Alliance.

He remained a member of the Kennet and Avon area committee until the system was abolished in 2015, and was a founder of the South West Bath Credit Union.

As a journalist, he was a frequent contributor to co-operative publications and a regular letter writer to Co-operative News. Away from the movement, worked as an NHS administrator, consumer relations manager for Cadbury Schweppes and Justice of the Peace.

Pete Vallance, membership manager for the Co-op Group’s South-West region, said: “I knew Edgar because I looked after the Kennet & Avon Co-op Committee upon which Edgar sat in his latter years.

“The Co-op is a special organisation.  It’s special because of people like Edgar; people who passionately care about it and what it does. These people give their time to look after the Co-op for the future. Edgar was one of those people.

“Edgar’s passion for the Co-op never wavered – through the good times and the bad. And he was always meticulously prepared.

Edgar helped bring the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative to Bath Christmas Market. From left: Jamal Salameh (director, Holy Land Handicraft), Edgar Evans and Johnny Hilel (Bath Co-op Board Member) Pictures Clare Green
Edgar helped bring the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative to Bath Christmas Market.
From left: Jamal Salameh (director, Holy Land Handicraft), Edgar Evans and Johnny Hilel (Bath Co-op board member) Picture: Clare Green

“Not all area committee members were as fastidious, but Edgar arrived with his paperwork ordered and annotated in his copperplate handwriting and often with newspaper clippings attached to emphasise his points.”

He added: “It was very rare for a month to go by without seeing a press cutting accompanied by a photo of Edgar in a yellow polo shirt with an organisation from  Bath being presented with a Community Fund Award, an element of his area committee role that I believe he really cherished.”

Edgar’s committee work sometimes overlapped with his own passions, ensuring the Co-op’s support for the Bath Spa Band and the visit of the Holy Land Handycraft Co-operative, from Bethlehem, to the Bath Christmas Market.

In 2012, the United Nations Year of Co-operatives, Edgar was instrumental in delivering an exhibition celebrating the co-operative movement in the South West at the Museum of Bath at Work.

He also found and presented to the museum a memorial plaque listing members of the Twerton Co-operative who lost their lives in the First World War.

Simon Crew, who served with Edgar on the Kennet and Avon Area Committee, said: “Edgar’s contribution to the co-operative movement over six decades was an inspiration.

“He always took a full part in discussions and cared passionately about serving our communities – I remember one meeting where a board director came and told the committee that directors should be paid £40,000. In a very polite manner Edgar pointed out that when he was on the board, committee fees were zero and the Co-op was in a much better position then than it is now.

“It was a privilege to serve on the committee with such a dedicated co-operator.”

Former Kennet and Avon Area Committee chair David Langham added: “I knew Edgar since the 1970s when Bristol and Bath was one CRS region but had two divisional committees. Edgar shared the belief that the Co-op should not just be a successful trading organisation but a force for positive change in the world.”

National Members Council member Sofy Crew, who also served on the Kennet and Avon Area Committee with Edgar, said: “Edgar was one of the first to welcome me when I joined the committee. His commitment and experience was respected by everyone.

“He was always speaking up on members’ behalf – for example he repeatedly called for student discounts for years before they were brought in.

“And a few years ago, when things were going wrong in the Co-op Group, we had a presentation on some new strategy. Everyone was quiet – then Edgar said ‘this is cloud cuckoo land’; coming from a Christian gentleman like Edgar these were strong words – but he was right.”

Edgar Evans died on 26 December and leaves his wife of 57 years, Eunice, daughters Julie and Sally, and grandchildren Amy, Charlotte, Matthew, Madeleine and Eleanor. His funeral was held on 16 January at St Philip and St James’ Church, Bath, where tributes were given from the credit union movement, House of Hope Charity and by Pete Vallance.

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