STEPHEN HEPBURN: Don Dixon was a true local legend
The accolade “legend” is a description often applied to people but with our wonderful Don it’s an honour thoroughly deserved.
So I deeply regret the passing, aged 87, of a very close marra and political mentor but I was blessed to know him really well and will always be good friends with his wonderful wife, Doreen, and their three children.
Many of you will have known Don too and no doubt a fair few are grateful for help when he was a GMB trade union official, Labour councillor and, from 1979 to 1997, MP for the Jarrow parliamentary constituency.
His is the inspiring story of the Jarra lad who left school at an early age, working in the shipyards and experiencing the misery of life on the dole, elected to represent people in the area he adored before continuing to fight the good cause as Baron Dixon in the House of Lords.
And all the time he remained down to earth, a loyal man with a big heart who never forgot his roots.
If he was born in America, they might make a Hollywood movie about Don’s inspiring life story.
Don’s dad and grandad found themselves on the dole during his early childhood in the Tory hungry 1930s, when unemployment rocketed in the North East and Conservatives in London didn’t give a damn.
As the Jarrow Marchers discovered when Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin refused to meet them at the end of their historic 300-mile crusade to London for work.
Don was 21 when the Jarrow born and bred young man joined the Labour Party and was voted in 1963 onto the then Jarrow Borough Council.
Later he was a prominent figure on South Tyneside Council where he transformed and improved council housing to the delight of thousands of tenants, many thankfully still with us and living in decent homes partly thanks to Don.
And he was over the moon in 1979 to be selected to stand for Parliament in Jarrow by beating two academics with, as he’d joke, more letters behind their names than the eight letters in his own name.
Don fought like a tiger in the House of Commons for the people of the Jarrow constituency and was elected by Labour MPs to be the party’s Deputy Chief Whip, a crucial role in the resistance to savage Tory job losses and destruction of public services.
The Tories were in power then as now and he tore into Maggie Thatcher and John Major, Don memorably firing a broadside at Conservatives who achieved what evaded even the Nazis when the Tories sank Tyneside shipbuilding.
Don was loyal and defiant to the end, angered by the pain and suffering inflicted on working people by the Tories.
He hated the Bedroom Tax, cuts to council tax support, cruel disability assessments, unfair sanctions and a nasty welfare regime leaving people relying - just as they did in the hungry 1930s - on charity and food bank handouts.
I’ll write in a future Gazette column about Labour’s challenges after last week’s Copeland by-election but I know Don voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader and believed Labour was at its best when it was united.
Rest in Peace, Don. We were lucky to know you and we’ll keep up the good fight.