Tributes paid to a ‘perfect gentleman’

soc25th anni celebration for the international centre. John and Kate Lovell.  1905078p
soc25th anni celebration for the international centre. John and Kate Lovell. 1905078p

Tributes have been paid to the former chief executive of Harrogate Borough Council John Lovell, who died on Sunday aged 77.

Mr Lovell was chief executive of the council from 1978 to 1991, when he retired early through ill health. He was a prominent member of Harrogate Rotary Club, and was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship for meritorious service in 2003.

Mick Walsh, who took over from Mr Lovell as chief executive of the council, led the tributes this week. Mr Walsh, who retired from the position two years ago, described Mr Lovell as a hard-working, kind, and very able man who was able to relate to his staff well.

“When I first moved to Harrogate (as assistant director of administration) John impressed me very much. I took the job because of him. He was such a lovely man, the best boss I ever had.

“His staff were very attached to him and when I succeeded him as chief executive, I had a very hard act to follow.”

Mr Lovell moved from Kent to take the helm at Harrogate Council as the problems of the conference centre had already begun. The centre was under construction, but its costs were massively over budget and continuing to soar. Local residents labelled it a white elephant and were furious their council tax had to increase to pay for its escalating costs.

Mr Walsh said: “The conference centre problems had already begun under his predecessor, and he was charged with sorting it all out. He presided over the council with considerable success. There was a lot of good things going on as well, the market hall for example was rebuilt in the midst of a recession - but the conference centre was where all the pressure was.”

A former colleague and fellow rotarian Ron Woolley recalled Mr Lovell as a brilliant administrator.

“He had developed his own form of shorthand, and he took a note of all that everyone said at meetings - it was a clever move that kept everyone on their toes!”

“There were a lot of things going on at that time as well as the conference centre.

“John had an excellent sense of humour and each year we held an annual dinner with the councillors (which we all paid for ourselves) and the councillors and officers did satirical sketches which were extremely funny - John wrote them all!

Mr Woolley added: “John was a very kind man, always ready to support people. He was held in high esteem by very many people for all sorts of things.”

Conservative councillor Chris Brown was first elected to Harrogate council for the Wathvale ward in 1982 and remembered Mr Lovell as a ‘perfect gentleman’.

He said: “He gave me a massive amount of encouragement and advice when I was in my early years on the council. He was always very dignified and a superb example of a chief executive.

Coun Brown, who was made a Freeman of the Borough in 2000 added: “He also played a brilliant game at our fiercely contested annual officers v members cricket match!

Long serving Lib Dem councillor Philip Broadbank remembered Mr Lovell as a ‘smashing bloke’.

He said: “I always admired the way he handled all the pressures he was faced with.

“He always had that resolute way, very professional and thorough. He was a good servant to the Harrogate district, and a great man to know.”

Mr Lovell had been a Rotarian for 43 years, moving to Harrogate Rotary Club when he relocated from Kent in 1978. He was president of Harrogate Rotary Club in 1996/97, and also served as secretary on two occasions. He was also secretary of Rotary’s Flower Fund homes in the 1990s.

The president of Harrogate Rotary Club, Alan Wallace, paid tribute to Mr Lovell this week.

He said: “John was a hugely respected member of Harrogate Rotary Club and he will be greatly missed for his knowledge, insight, wisdom and wit.

“As a relatively recent member I benefited greatly from his vast experience and unfailing helpfulness. It has been a privilege to know him.”

Mr Lovell had been ill for some months, and died in Harrogate District Hospital on January 2. He leaves a widow, Kate, three children and was a proud grandfather too.

A service to celebrate his life will be held at the Wesley Chapel in Harrogate next Thursday, January 13, at 11.30am.