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BILL LAWRENCE, who died on October 30, 2021 after a long illness, had lived a life in parallel realities, some of which were concurrent and some consecutive.
He had been a police officer in north-east England, a trade union rep, a legal researcher, a health and safety activist, a historian, a playwright, a freelance journalist, an international trade analyst, a film and TV extra, an organiser of health and safety conferences, a member of the Construction Safety Campaign and a ban asbestos campaigner. His range of interests included both local and global issues of a social as well as historical nature.
He was always off to attend a meeting or an interview to provide support for anyone who found themselves in need. This included British workers injured by industrial diseases, non-English speaking immigrants in difficulties with British bureaucracy or campaigners needing access to the extensive and unique historical database which was Bill Lawrence.
I was fortunate to get to know Bill during his ban asbestos phase— he had the most amazing recall for detail, inexhaustible energy and a nature which found travelling 14 hours in the back of a bus to a United Nations meeting in Geneva an exciting adventure. He found great satisfaction in getting around Europe on the cheap, reaching London, Brussels and Antwerp at rock bottom prices to consult with legal advisers, trade union colleagues and local historians.
Language barriers and political differences were never a hindrance to Bill as he seemed able to communicate across all such boundaries with a working knowledge of several European languages and an infectious joie de vivre that transcended political divides. I remember a story of him striking up a conversation with a Russian general on a train journey from his home in Tyne and Wear to London.
In 2019, I witnessed Bill in action during our ban asbestos demonstration at the Russian embassy in London. He began chatting with one of the policemen on guard duty about asbestos and transitioned to industrial deafness, another one of Bill’s specialities and a subject of great interest to the officer. It was arranged that Bill would, at a later date, attend a meeting of the policemen’s union to give a presentation on deafness claims.
In March 2021, Bill was named this year’s recipient of “the Alan,” the most prestigious prize given to UK health and safety activists, in appreciation of his sustained efforts to support working people and the disadvantaged. Like Alan Dalton, the campaigner in whose name this award was given, Bill was a troublemaker of the highest order, someone who had no compunction about causing trouble for the great and the good in order to safeguard the rights of ordinary people.
Bill’s beloved wife Faye predeceased him. Bill is survived by his children and grandchildren. Our condolences to them all.
Laurie Kazan-Allen is the coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat — www.ibasecretariat.org.
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