Born: April 3, 1928; Died: September 6, 2012.
Jimmy Cook, who has died aged 84 after a short illness, will be mourned by many Edinburgh people who will remember him with great affection for the tireless service he gave during his life as one of their own Edinburgh-born sons.
As a young man, he dedicated himself to serve the Labour and trade union movement in our city. His union activity was channelled through Usdaw, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the Edinburgh and East of Scotland branch of which he continued to serve as secretary of the Retired Members Committee to the end of his days.
He was also an active, long-standing executive member of the Edinburgh Trade Union Council, but it was as a local councillor in Edinburgh that he will be best remembered.
During his long career in local government, Jimmy served as a councillor, a bailie, a Judge of Police, a convener of the fire board, convener of Lothian Council, convener of the police board and filled many other positions too numerous to list.
He first stood as a Labour Party candidate in 1951 for the Murrayfield ward, not the most fertile ground in which to gather Labour votes. But that initial outing served him well and, by 1962, he was first elected to represent the highly marginal ward of Calton, winning it by the barest majority of 15 votes. Calton was to faithfully re-elect Jimmy with only a one-year gap for fully 34 years until his retirement from local government, following the demise of Lothian Regional Council in 1996.
His popularity with the electorate was all the more remarkable in that Calton was not a traditional Labour area, and included within its boundaries Easter Road, the home of Hibernian Football Club, and rival to Hearts of Midlothian FC, of which he was a fanatical follower.
Canvassing votes in Easter Road while sporting a Hearts scarf certainly ensures people take notice. Robert Burns once wrote "the mair they talk, I'm kent the better" and this advice was taken on board by Jimmy, whose regular success at the polls was built on being very well kent indeed.
His tireless local campaigns were also legendary. Save the Steamies, Save the Buses, Save the Playhouse, Halt the West Approach Road, Bring back the Trams, the list goes on and on. He would submit a petition of public signatures to the council on any and almost every issue which concerned his ward. No issue was too important, no issue too trivial was Jimmy's maxim. Every petition was always accompanied by a carefully typed press release. Appropriately enough, he was a typewriter mechanic to trade and an employee of Olivetti, ideal skills for publicising his campaigns. However his unashamed populism and pawky, often self-deprecating and almost schoolboy sense of humour concealed from many the strength and depth of his socialist convictions.
His consistent support of improvements in public transport, his endeavours to develop fully professional, trained and equipped fire and police services under strong local government control, were evidence of his commitment to the best in public service. The present Scottish Government's intentions to create national fire and police authorities were anathema to him, as he supported local services for local people.
His consistent support for full welfare provision for the blind and disabled was proof too that his politics had a serious, compassionate side.
During the 1960s he organised regular trade-union-sponsored holidays to the then Czechoslovakia where he not only developed a taste for strong beer, but befriended, fell in love with and then married Hermina (who predeceased him in 1992) and became stepfather to Eva, Jaroslav and Milos.
His love of all things Czech embraced a love of the culture and an appreciation of the music. During the years 1986 and 1990 as Lothian convener, early morning visitors to the Regional Chambers would be surprised to hear Antonin Dvorak's 9th Symphony From the New World at full volume. He liked to start in the office just after 7am and clearly required a "Czech fix" to carry him through his day.
Like this writer, his much-publicised devotion to Heart of Midlothian FC was deep and real. I recall as if it were yesterday that long painful car journey back from Dundee in 1986 when our beloved Hearts lost the league title on goal average. Jimmy never spoke a word; not one syllable passed his lips on that journey home. On our return, we stopped at the then Hailes House for a consoling glass or two of McEwan's Best. Jimmy was inconsolable, the tears streaming down his wee rosy, cherubic countenance. When he eventually gathered himself to speak, he said: "It's a'right for you young uns, you might live long enough to see Hearts become champions but time's running oot for folk like me."
Jimmy never did see his beloved Hearts become Scottish champions again but he did see them win the Scottish Cup on three further occasions, the latest earlier this year, better than many others have managed.
Jimmy's involvement in his local community transcended politics, football loyalties and creed. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics, paid tribute to his public service and fondly remembered working with him when archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Extending his sympathies to Jimmy's family and friends, he said: "Jimmy, as convener of Lothian Regional Council and the predecessor of Eric Milligan, helped me in my first years as an archbishop, in particular with our own 'West Lothian Question', what to do about Catholic schools, primary and secondary, in that area of my archdiocese.
"Along with his colleague, Councillor Elizabeth Maginnis, they were a formidable pair, but I must say that justice and charity oozed out of them both. Consequently, it was with a certain regret that I witnessed that further re-organisation of our local government, but my memories of Jimmy stand out as a landmark in my relationship with the old Lothian region.
"My sympathy is now with Jimmy's stepdaughter, Eva, and his family and friends."
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