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Lord Jack Ashley

April 21, 2012 9:00 PM

Jack Ashley in actionOn Friday we lost one of the borough's most famous and widely respected citizens. Well known everywhere not only as an outspoken Labour MP and as a tireless campaigner for the rights of the disabled and the least fortunate in society, Jack Ashley was also prominent locally as President of Epsom Hospital's League of Friends.

In that role, he took a vigorous part in various campaigns fought in recent years to retain Accident & Emergency, Maternity and Children's services at Epsom District Hospital as well as to keep a General Hospital in Epsom, rather than amalgamate it with St Helier on an different site.

The picture shows him speaking alongside Liberal Democrat demonstrators who teamed with Residents Association, Conservative, Labour and Trade Union representatives at a rally in 2007 to protest at proposals to remove Maternity services from the Epsom site in Dorking Road, a threat which thankfully was subsequently lifted.

Despite leaving school at 14 with no qualifications, Jack Ashley later won a scholrship to Oxford and also studied at Cambridge before working for the BBC and then entering parliament to serve as Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent for 26 years and then in the House of Lords. An operation that went wrong left him profoundly deaf soon after his election, which he famously overcame by becoming a skilled lip reader, though 25 years later an implant restored some hearing.

His campaigns benefited victims of thalidomide, deaf people, widows and battered wives, rape victims, disabled and mentally ill people and victims of bullying.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP said "Lord Ashley's life is an inspiration to all. His tenacity and courage made this country a better and fairer place for people with disabilities. He was a great man who has left a great legacy that should never be forgotten."

We in Epsom & Ewell admired and respected him. We miss him. We shall not see his like again.