Lord Ted Graham passes away, aged 94

Remembering a co-operative legend, whose co-op involvement spanned eight decades

Lord Thomas Edward ‘Ted’ Graham has passed away in England, a week before his 95th birthday. A co-operative politician, author and campaigner, he was a strong supporter of co-operatives throughout his life – including Co-operative News, to which he contributed regularly, and read religiously.

Born in 1925, he began his co-operative career at the age of 13, working for the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Co-operative, delivering bread on a co-op bicycle. He served in the Royal Marines from 1943, but was severely wounded when taking part in an exercise in 1944 and returned to co-operative service in 1946.

He studied by correspondence courses and at night school and earned certificates from the Co-operative College. He became Prime Minister of the Tyneside Youth Parliament and held several positions in the co-operative movement, being appointed Southern Section Officer of the Co-operative Union and National Secretary for the Co-operative Party. He was the Labour and Co-operative MP for Edmonton from February 1974; he lost his seat in 1983 but was created a life peer as Baron Graham of Edmonton. He was Labour Chief Whip from 1990-97 and was also chair of the Co-operative Council and served as President of the 1987 Co-operative Congress

Lord Graham of Edmonton PC returned to the House of Lords in 2019, in a surprise visit organised by Knebworth Care Home

In his own words: “The co-operative movement is based on men and women with the right principles at heart. It is full of splendid history and stories of progress.”

“Ted is a legend in the co-operative movement,” said Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-op Party. “When the Co-operative Party designed and commissioned a centenary marching banner, from the Durham Banner Makers in Ted’s native North East, it was obvious that Ted 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.”

Ted Graham (in the white shirt) appears in the centre of the Co-op Party’s centenary marching banner

The Co-op Party is collecting tributes to Ted. “Many co-operators will have their own cherished memories and stories they have stored up over more years than mine. However, an early [memory] for me was when I first started at the Co-operative Party, the then General Secretary, Michael Stephenson, 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. But when I got to the meeting Ted was wearing his – I felt I probably should have listened to Michael…”

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK remembers Ted as a charming and charismatic champion for co-operation throughout his life, who played a key role in many points of influence and change for the sector.

“I first met him in the Lords, at his invitation and I can’t say I’d ever met anyone less lordly,” says Mr Mayo. “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 cooperation in the UK is a remarkable blend of values, enterprise, politics and perseverance and no-one embodied that more fully than Ted.”

We are gathering tributes and stories about Ted from around the co-operative movement. If you would like to contribute, please email [email protected].