Obituaries: Hollis Smallman, Len Burch and John Smith

Scotmid mourns its president Tributes have been paid to Hollis Smallman, president of Scotmid Co-operative, who passed away recently following a short illness. John Brodie, chief executive of...

Scotmid mourns its president

Tributes have been paid to Hollis Smallman, president of Scotmid Co-operative, who passed away recently following a short illness.

John Brodie, chief executive of Scotmid spoke of his “deep sadness” as he announced the news. “Hollis had been associated with St Cuthbert’s Co-operative and Scotmid for well over 50 years, both as an employee and, since 2005, as president,” he said.

“His contribution to the society in simple terms is immeasurable. His tremendous legacy will live on. Our thoughts are with Hollis’s wife Grace, his daughter Lesley, and his family and friends.”

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “It has been a privilege to be at today’s funeral where we were able to mark the life and contribution of Hollis to the co-operative movement.”

Mark Lazarowicz MP said Hollis was “a great co-operator who will be sadly missed”, while Lesley Hinds, Former Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh, said his death was “a great loss to the co-operative movement.”

After his illness was diagnosed, Hollis spoke of his pride in Scotmid. “I never dreamt that when I started with St Cuthbert’s over 50 years ago that I would have been elected as President. I just can’t put into words how proud I am to have achieved that.

“I am also proud that even in difficult times Scotmid has remained and will continue to remain an independent co-operative.”


Leading co-operative educator

Len Burch, who died this month aged 86, was well known in co-operative member education in the 1970s to early 1990s. He was assistant to the general secretary of the National Council of Labour Colleges before working for 15 years for the Labour Party, principally as an agent in Kent.

Len joined the Co-operative Union Education Department at Stanford Hall in 1970, remaining until his retirement in 1992. Never afraid of controversy, he routinely raised fundamental and challenging questions, many of which go to the heart of some of the current debates over the crisis in the movement.

He was concerned at how member education had become part of member relations. While welcoming the growing professionalism of member relations officers, he saw the danger of member relations becoming a public relations exercise rather than an educational activity.

In an article for the Journal of Co-operative Studies published at the time of his retirement, he warned that “a form of schizophrenia can develop when member involvement and member influence is both wanted and feared. As member relations officers become less responsive to member demands and more answerable to management, they can face the waitress/waiter syndrome, trying to satisfy the conflicting demands of ‘customer in kitchen’ without much control of either”.

Many will remember Len for helping the Co-operative Union develop courses for the Institute of Co-operative Directors – the first major attempt to raise governance standards in the movement.

He should also be remembered for his passion for co-operative identity and membership.

Len is survived by his widow Liz, who worked for the Co-operative College at Stanford Hall, and children Grant, Chris, Fay and John.


Weavers’ champion

When John Smith (1953-2014) retired from British Aerospace at the age of 50, he devoted himself to the history of his home village of Fenwick, Ayrshire.

He saw there was no memorial to the Fenwick Weavers, the world’s first co-op, and lobbied for a celebration which was held for the 250th anniversary of the Weavers in 2011. Next, a village trail was created, and John played host to many of its visitors.

He also prompted the World Confederation of Credit Unions to declare that the Fenwick Weavers were the earliest example of a credit union they had seen.

Last year, John was diagnosed with prostate cancer and, in December, suffered the sudden death of his long-time partner, Margaret Ferrans. He died last month, and leaves behind a step-daughter, Darlene, and two grandchildren, John and Danielle.

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