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Remembering Dave Lewis: core member of Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners

LYNNE WALSH pays tribute to a brilliant organiser and fearless campaigner, who died last month aged 64

IT’S always a measure of the farewell to a fine comrade, friend or family member when the chapel is packed to the rafters.

So it was for the funeral of Dave Lewis, who died on January 7, aged 64. The truest of socialists, the sweetest of uncles, and the quality of comrade who leaves a big gap in the movement, and in the hearts of those who loved him.

From the chapel at Putney Vale to the graveside, we walked with banners, representing Lesbians and Gay men Support the Miners (LGSM), and Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC).

The service had started with the David Bowie song, Oh, you Pretty Things. It took so long for the congregation to file in that the chapel played it three times. Dave’s niece Paula Nicholson spoke movingly of his strong moral principles and understanding of the human condition.

A statement from LGSM said: “Dave was an original and core member of LGSM during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. What is more, he played a central organising role once LGSM reformed itself in 2014, after the Pride movie was released, and over the last 10 years, a whole new generation of activists and supporters came to know him. In particular, he formed a strong bond with the OTJC and carefully nurtured both the political and personal relationships between them and LGSM.”

Kate Flannery of the OTJC said the campaign group was deeply saddened by the death: “We have lost a wonderful comrade and a true friend. Dave was an unassuming, brilliant organiser who campaigned fearlessly, consistently and tirelessly on many political and social justice issues.

“Dave used his personal and political connections and influence to help us campaign for an Orgreave inquiry, inviting and involving the OTJC in various LGSM events and activities and marching, organising and campaigning with us. It was a delight to be in Dave’s wise, wicked and witty company, enjoying many times together at social and political occasions, sharing stories and much laughter over a few drinks. We will miss him terribly.”

LGSM’s tribute reflected on Dave’s life: “Born in London in 1959 into a working-class family of Irish and Geordie stock, he was a proud socialist, and in the ’80s, was one of the small group of lesbian and gay Militant supporters who helped to transform its position on LGBT issues.

“He moved the first detailed motion on lesbian and gay rights at the Labour Party Young Socialists national conference in 1985. In the late ’80s he was an activist in Trades Unionists Against Section 28, which was set up to oppose anti-LGBT legislation by the Conservative government.

“From the ’80s he was also an active member of the Tenants and Residents Association in his Southwark council estate, and had served as its secretary. He was an eyewitness to the 2009 fatal fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell. That experience left him traumatised, but he tenaciously fought for the rights and interests of the residents, testifying at the public inquiry. He said that the failure to implement all its recommendations led to the further tragedy of Grenfell.

“Dave worked at Waterloo for many years, where he was a member of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), serving for several years as branch secretary.

“Rejoining the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, he became secretary of Camberwell and Peckham CLP, until he was suspended in 2020 for allowing discussion of a motion of support for Corbyn. He then resigned from the party.

“In every aspect of his life and activities he was widely admired and loved. His warmth, kindness and generosity shone out, however much he tried to camouflage it with his wicked sense of humour and sharp tongue. He was an inspiring and effective organiser, with a brilliant grasp of detail, who never sought the limelight and preferred to get stuff done rather than talk about it. Nonetheless, if thrust forward, he was an engaging and moving orator. He was also a beautiful writer, whose humanity and sensitivity enlivened every anecdote or pen-portrait of parents, friends, colleagues and comrades.

“Dave’s untimely death from cancer leaves a huge gap in the movement, and is a painful loss for his partner, his family and his many friends. Our thoughts are with all those who knew and loved him. Solidarity forever.”

Joyce Sheppard of Women Against Pit Closures said: “To have called Dave Lewis your friend was a privilege. We met at Doncaster Pride in 2014. Our shared history of the miners’ strike brought us together. I have fond memories of meeting up at the Durham Miners’ Gala, and a few years ago Dave invited my late husband John and myself down to London to show us the sights. We ended up being given a guided tour of Peckham! Not exactly a beauty spot, but Dave made it very interesting in his own inimitable way. Dave was a unique person, a comrade, a caring friend — and unforgettable.”

For my own part, the virtual press office that Dave and I ran for LGSM was joyful. Deadlines and difficult decisions were interspersed with fits of giggles. I read his vignettes of family and colleagues avidly; they were full of observation and insight. His words sparkled on the page. 

Dave Lewis loved Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Paul Weller, Prince, Todd Rundgren, and his comrades. He loved his husband Alan and their life together. He loved his family, and he’d said of his late father: “He was such a hard-working, uncomplaining man, happy with his lot. I try to learn from him, to this day, but regularly fail.”

No, Dave, you succeeded, you triumphed. Solidarity forever.

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