Co-op movement pays tribute to Ted Graham

Ed Mayo, Dame Pauline Green, David Rodgers are among those sharing their memories of Lord Graham

Lord Thomas Edward ‘Ted’ Graham passed away on 21 March 2020, a week before his 95th birthday. A co-operative politician, author and campaigner, he was a strong supporter of co-operatives throughout his life. Here is a selection some of the extraordinary tributes to Ted that we have received from around the movement. We will continue to gather these online. If you would like to contribute, please email [email protected].

Click here to read the Co-op News obituary.

Pauline Green, former Labour and Co-operative Member of the European Parliament, former leader of the Parliamentary Group of the Party of European Socialists, former chief executive of Co-operatives UK and former president of the International Co-op Alliance

I’ve known Ted Graham well since I was first elected to the European Parliament in 1989. My Euro constituency contained his much loved Edmonton constituency, and my office was in the Labour Party offices in Edmonton. Campaigning with Ted in Edmonton in 1989 was simply fantastic. Everybody knew him and many still thought he was their MP even though he had lost the seat six years earlier! 

I remember so many speeches when he started with ‘My name’s Ted, but you can call me Lord’. It expressed him perfectly. A man proud to have represented the people and country he loved – in war time, in parliament and throughout his life from within the co-op movement. But a modest, unassuming man in his personal life. I last saw Ted last May at Knebworth where Bob and I had taken to visiting him for lunch every few months. That visit came shortly after he had made his last visit to the Houses of Parliament (left) and he was full of it. His delight at making what he called ‘one last visit to the House’ was a joy to see. Ted never quite recovered from the loss of his wife and two sons. I remember feeling so helpless when I was in Singapore, and he phoned me in such distress to tell me that his lovely Ian had gone – he was bereft. 

I shall remember him as the man who snuck up to me just as my winning result was about to be declared at the count in 1989, and slipped from under his jacket a ‘dinner plate’ sized Labour rosette that one of his constituents had made for his last election which he sadly lost, denying him the chance to wear it. I was proud to wear it for him that night. I’ll remember him as the man who never needed prodding or briefing to talk about co-operation in the House of Commons or Lords – rather he took every opportunity to insert a co-operative argument into as many debates as possible. Ted had co-operation running through his core. 

When last I saw him, I asked him if he was happy. He said “Well Pauline, I can’t say happy as I’ve lost those I have loved most, but I am content”. We have lost a great co-operator and I have lost a dear friend.

Ed Mayo, seceretary general, Co-operatives UK

Ted Graham was a charming and charismatic champion for co-operation throughout his life. He had a distinguished career in the movement and in politics, playing a key role in so many points of influence and change for the sector over time. 

I first met him in the Lords, at his invitation and I can’t say I’d ever met anyone less lordly – he was bright, intelligent and always positive, but a man too of profound and sincere humility. He’d been wearing his long-worn co-op tie on the day and three years later, in 2013, when we’d launched the new international co-operative marque, I was able to offer him a new one.

The story of co-operation in the UK is a remarkable blend of values, enterprise, politics and perseverance and no one embodied that more fully than Ted.

Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-operative Party

Ted is a legend in the co-operative movement. When the Co-operative Party designed and commissioned a centenary marching banner in 2017, from the Durham Banner Makers in Ted’s native North East, it was obvious that he needed to be front and centre on it. This banner will last for many, many years, as will Ted’s legacy, and I hope we will be marching this banner at the Durham Gala, with Ted on it, for many years to come.

Given the life Ted lived and the career he had, many co-operators will have their own cherished memories and stories they have stored up over more years than mine. However, an early one for me was when I first started at the Co-operative Party. Michael Stephenson (the then-general secretary) sent me to meet with Ted to get an understanding of what I really needed to do. He told me I had to wear a co-op tie to the meeting otherwise Ted may feel I was not on brand enough – he gave me the tie, but to be honest I didn’t put it on and it is still in the office on my desk to this day. When I got to the meeting Ted was wearing his – I felt I probably should have listened to Michael.

I know him to have been a very kind man who was always there for general secretaries of the Co-operative Party, through thick and thin. He wrote the most supportive of letters and was always there egging us on to achieve more for the Party and the movement.

Dawn Hendon, head of governance and corporate affairs, Accord Housing Association

Lord Ted was joint honorary president of Accord Housing Association and honorary president of Redditch Co-operative Homes.  The latter is part of Accord and includes the largest new build housing co-op in the UK.  Lord Ted was a great supporter and officially opened a couple of our co-op housing schemes; Sunningdale Close and Holyoakes Close; the latter has a stone in the wall with his name.

He also supported and presented an Access to Housing course we ran a number of years ago and hosted events for us and our customers at the Palace of Westminster.  One of our memorable Lord Ted sayings was “Hello, my name is Ted Graham, you can call me Lord.”

Siân Walker-McAllister

Ted was a wonderful, generous, thoughtful, intelligent and funny man.  I worked with him in Edmonton when I joined the Labour Party in 1980 and we canvassed together in every election in Edmonton and Enfield. We debated, argued and agreed on matters of party policy through my time as a member in Edmonton, as an Enfield Labour councillor and afterwards when I chaired Edmonton Labour Party (Ted was then President of the ECLP). We kept in touch after I moved to Bristol and a few years ago, as generous as ever, Ted invited Gerry and me to meet him for lunch at the Lords.  

I learned so much from Ted and will miss him hugely – we were about to join him for his 95th birthday at Knebworth, but he wasn’t well enough.  Rest in Peace dear Ted – you have left an amazing legacy.

Glenda Foster

Many years ago, Ted Graham picked three teenagers from the Enfield Highway Co-op Youth Club to train as public speakers. He entered us in a competition “Youth Speaks For Itself” and with his patience and encouragement, we made it to the national finals. He gave us the confidence to stand up and speak in front of a hall full of people, how to present an argument fairly and how to challenge opinions assertively but,above all, politely. He was a true gentleman and we liked and respected him for his guidance which was always delivered with good humour.

Stan Newens, former Labour and Co-operative MP and Labour MEP

I first came into contact with Ted Graham when I was a member of the board and later president of the former London Co-operative Society and Ted was on the board of the former Enfield Highway Society. We met often to discuss co-operative business, and I was Labour and Co-op MP for Epping and later Harlow when Ted joined me as the Labour and Co-op MP for Edmonton. 

Although we each had our own slant on current politics, we were both members of the Co-operative Parliamentary Group and became firm friends. I used to give him a lift to Seven Sisters Underground Station on his way back home to Enfield at the end of parliamentary sessions and we talked at great length. Ted was absolutely and completely devoted to the Labour and Co-operative movement and spent most of his life working to promote it. 

In Newcastle his parents were victims of inter-war unemployment, but the co-operative movement gave him the opportunity to achieve a high standard of education and enabled him to pass his knowledge on. The movement today is grounded on the work of people like Ted Graham. [He was] always prepared to take up his constituents’ problems and to organise on behalf of the movement.

The movement owes a huge amount to the dedication of Ted Graham and his name should be permanently remembered for the enormous contribution he has made.

David Rodgers, former president of Co-operative Housing International and
former CEO of CDS Co-operatives

[This is an abridged version of David’s moving eulogy, which can be found in full at tinyurl.com/r6ufm2o]

It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of my great Labour and Co-operative Party political mentor and friend, Lord Graham of Edmonton. He had a sharp wit, a playful sense of humour and self deprecating sense of himself. He hosted many events for the co-operative housing movement while an MP and a peer. He told me that, when he was nominated to his life peerage, he was asked what title he would like. He told the Black Rod, the Queen’s representative at the Palace of Westminster, that he would like to be called “Lord Help Us”, but Black Rod advised him that would not be an acceptable title to Her Majesty. He chose Lord Graham of Edmonton to honour the people he previously represented as their MP.

I had the honour and privilege to know and work with Lord Ted for over 30 years from 1979, when I was appointed chief executive of CDS Co-operatives. At that time, Ted was a member of CDS’s board of directors. Because of his parliamentary duties he had less time to devote to CDS’s corporate governance but we did not wish to lose his knowledge of co-operatives or his immense Co-operative/Labour Co-operative political connections which helped us raise the profile of housing co-operatives time and time again in Parliament when they were threatened or ignored in housing legislation. We changed CDS’s rules to enable us to appoint Ted as our honorary President. His support was unstinting.

His autobiography, ‘From Tyne to Thames’, is still available on-line (though I doubt he would have recommended it be bought from Amazon with its restriction of worker rights and not paying appropriate taxes). 

Ted’s commitment to the 1st Co-operative Principle of open membership of co-operatives and society without discrimination was unrivalled. He often invited me to meet with him in Parliament to update him on issues affecting housing co-operatives and what he could do to support our efforts. I will always remember the enjoyment and privilege of such meetings. The respect for him in Parliament was immense, not least amongst the staff who worked there. He always treated them with the utmost courtesy and respect and they revered him; he always had time for all and addressed all of them by name. 

At this sad time, I take comfort in a conversation Ted and I had at the funeral of another great co-operator from the post-war years, Gladys Bunn, who also served as a member of CDS Co-operatives Board. As we waited in a the cold for Gladys’s funeral cortège to arrive, Ted told me that, in the immediate years after the Second World War, he and Gladys were members of a Co-operative Party rambling club that discussed politics as they walked, which they called the “Walk and Talk Club”. As they got older, Ted said, they kept walking but renamed themselves the “Shuffle and Grunt Club”. We laughed together at this reminiscence and, in our shared sadness at Gladys’s death, I said to Ted: “You have been a great friend and co-operative mentor to me Ted. When you die I will shed buckets of tears for you”. Tonight my buckets are all full.

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