The Atherstone-born, Nuneaton town champion who never forgot Bedworth: You were ‘simply the best’ Bill Olner

  Posted: 05.06.20 at 21:50 by Nick Hudson

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THE three parts that make up the basic geography of north Warwickshire came together today to pay the most dignified of farewells to a man who championed all with whom he came into contact.

Bill Olner was someone you were only too pleased to see, hiding any favouritism in a genuine desire to do his best for everything and everyone he represented.

He never made distinctions between competing factions – the Atherstone-born boy who adopted neighbouring Nuneaton and treated Bedworth as an equal partner.

Last month Covid-19 complications robbed the area of its former MP of nearly two decades and passionate council leader in the mid-1980s as well as a current county council committee chairman. He was 78.

Waiting for their champion: On the council steps, from the left, front row, council leader Julie Jackson, former North Warwickshire MP Mike O'Brien and Bedworth Cllr Bill Hancox

But on Friday, despite the continued restrictions surrounding numbers at funerals, it didn’t stop ordinary folk paying their roadside respects to a “working class” hero as the cortege made its way from his home in Cotswold Crescent, Nuneaton to a specially-prepared parlour setting of funeral directors Devall & Son.

In between, the procession passed his beloved Stockingford Pavilion and other memorable spots that littered the career of a genuine ‘man-of-the-people’.

Most of those paying their respects congregated at Nuneaton Council House – his political powerhouse for many years but a place where he “never stopped helping his own”. The flag was flying at half-mast in recognition of the highest regard in which he is held.

There to greet him on was the other two parts of the geographical triangle – former North Warwickshire MP and ex-Solicitor General Mike O’Brien and Bedworth-based councillors Bill Hancox and current borough council leader Julie Jackson.

Father and son David and Danny Devall walked in front of the cortege in the traditional manner as it set off again into Vicarage Street, heading towards Attleborough.

Circling towards 'home': The funeral cortege

Coronavirus restrictions left most dignitaries unable to attend the actual service. So to ensure no one missed the “invitation-only” gathering – it was livestreamed on YouTube to the whole of Warwickshire and beyond.

The service, with screens linked to America, certainly cut out the “pomp and ceremony” which Councillor Olner had little time for anyway.

The service heard how a “great man” was being mourned, one it was almost impossible to truly honour – given he had achieved so much.

The celebrant went on: “We are only just able to literally scratch the surface in terms of paying tribute to him.

“Today we truly have lost a great champion.”

Not a dry eye?: Mourner Mike O'Brien

The tributes were paid by current Nuneaton and Bedworth mayor June Tandy and former Warwickshire County Council chairman Bob Hicks.

The outside world looking in heard how Bill Olner was driven by commitment to make change where he could. He had a vision to create a much better world for all.

That manifested itself during his Westminster career as the founding chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement and locally during his year of charitable funding raising as mayor – probably his finest hour in helping to create the Mary Ann Evans Hospice.

Via a video link, chief executive Liz Hancock told the service that everyone at the hospice and across Nuneaton, Bedworth and North Warwickshire should thank the politician for his life.

Music played a big part in the ceremony today – much of it chosen by Cllr Olner himself.

Pausing to remember: Outside his spiritual home

There was Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best’ for someone who showed “what can be achieved” when committed to make a difference, said the celebrant.

As a schoolboy he visited London and left a bag crammed with jam sandwiches outside the House of Parliament.

He could never have imagined the boy from the prefabs in Priory Walk, Mancetter would grace the hallowed corridors of the democratic citadel of the world.

The service heard how Bill Olner devoted his whole life “in the service of others with no separation between private and public life”.

A likeness was drawn between the former council leader and Britain’s Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle – with Bill being able to relate to the singer “in the fact they were both very ordinary, normal working class people who went on to do extraordinary things”.

Standing in tribute: Roadside mourners

Truly, he had “dared to dream”.

His service ended with a song where with the changing of one word we can all relate to Bill Olner . . . We Will Always Love You.

The service itself can be watched here on Nub News or via a link on Cllr Olner’s tribute page https;// before making the short trip to Nuneaton Crematorium.

The family made a request for no flowers and donations are to the hospice – with current donations standing in excess of £1,500.

Elsewhere, the UK passed a grim milestone today – more than 40,000 deaths have now been recorded from coronavirus.

A new tradition: Clapping the cortege

A total of 40,261 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for the virus, up 357 from Thursday.

Confirmed cases rose by 1,650 to 283,311 with a rate of 417.5 per 100,000 population.

Bedworth and Nuneaton still head neighbouring local authorities in the rate of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population.

The 442 cases come at 32,9 per 100,000, ahead of Solihull with 669 cases at rate of 311.3, North Warwickshire on 198 at rate of 305.3, and Birmingham wirth 3,257 cases at a rate of 285.4 per 100,000.

All hospital visitors and outpatients will need to wear face coverings and hospital staff must use surgical masks in England from June 15, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

Walking in front: The Devalls

Speaking at Friday's Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock said that those in hospital are "more likely" to catch coronavirus whether they work in a clinical setting or not.

Mr Hancock also said the new policy is being upgraded to ensure that "even as the virus comes under control" hospitals are a place of "care and of safety".

Members of the public are "strongly urged" to attend hospital wearing a face covering, but no one will be denied care and masks will be provided by the hospital if necessary, a Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said later.

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