Obituary: Labour/Co-op Party veteran Barbara Hawkins (1944-2021)

‘Barbara’s profound motivation to create a more equal world was manifested by her lifelong involvement with the co-operative movement’

Eileen Driver remembers a stalwart of the Labour and Co-op movement

It is a great challenge being an activist for the Labour and Co-op Parties here in North Yorkshire Richmond Constituency but Barbara Hawkins (12 May 1944-August 22 2021) was unswerving in her activism and leadership for almost 50 years. Her death in August created a huge loss for her political colleagues and family and friends.

Barbara’s profound motivation to create a more equal world was manifested by her lifelong involvement with the co-operative movement. She was a stalwart at the grassroots level and a valuable participant at board level. She loved a committee and contributed fervently to the board of Co-operatives UK, acted as a governor for the Co-operative College and was on the North East Area Committee and vice-chair of the Northern Regional Board.

She made a difference in all of these roles with her determination and refusal to run with the pack. Barbara also enjoyed the social aspects of committees and developed friendships within the groups. Even family holidays were sometimes aligned to the Co-op; sometimes taken at Gilsland Spa (formerly in co-operative ownership) and even inspiring her children to attend a fancy dress party as Co-op stamps. 

When recently given a Long-service Award, she said: “It’s been a joy to be involved with the Co-op Party over all these decades, from branch secretary to parliamentary candidate to the NEC. I wish all members the best for a good future.”

One of the first things Barbara did, on arriving in Great Ayton in 1974, was to create the Labour Party branch for which she worked, campaigned and networked until only a few weeks before she died. For many years she willingly gave huge time and effort to every role in the branch and constituency Labour Party. Because of her natural impulse to help and get things done, she was reliable throughout the decades at campaigning, which meant immeasurable hours of tramping streets. Her willingness to engage on doorsteps was undiminished to the end.

In the 1983 General Election, Barbara proudly stood as the Labour and Co-operative Candidate in the safest Tory seat in England against Leon Brittan. Her insights into campaigning were backed up with a solid graft of backroom work. Efficient and always technically skilled, Barbara was retweeting campaigns until her last few weeks. In a recent conversation with a Labour friend, she gave the task of ensuring that there will always be a Labour candidate in Stokesley and Ayton elections. Barbara, the promise will be kept.

Barbara Hawkins was born in Enfield and, gifted at science, took a London University chemistry degree and worked for British Gas. She met and married Dick, another scientist, whose work brought him to the British Steel research laboratories near Middlesbrough. They had a good life with family at the heart. Barbara balanced motherhood for her children Suzanne, Diane and John with working for Middlesbrough College as a lecturer in nutrition.

As a loyal supporter of Boro football team, Barbara was a proud season ticket holder. Her alertness to the community meant that she served as a justice of the peace for 30 years using her skills at arguing to often contend for the Benefit of Doubt. Her exceptional commitment to people’s needs also included working in the local Fair Trade Group and for the Mary Thompson Fund for Refugees in Middlesbrough. 

Tall and stylish, Barbara loved clothes and partying. She will be missed at our Labour Christmas parties as well as all our meetings and campaigning. Barbara gave much of her life to campaigning for social justice and was an inspiration to all of us who now lament her passing.

Barbara is survived by her beloved husband Dick, children Suzanne and John; daughter-in-law Adele and grandchildren Alexandra, James and George.