Relentless campaigner was an inspiration to all
TRIBUTES have poured in for one of Stoke-on-Trent's greatest ambassadors.
Politicians from all parties joined disability charities and former constituents in honouring former Stoke-on-Trent South MP Jack Ashley, who died on Friday night after a short illness.
The 89-year-old was the country's first deaf MP and campaigned relentlessly for disadvantaged groups such as disabled people and battered wives.
He was also a loyal servant to the Potteries, gaining the respect of colleagues, constituents and political rivals during his 26 years as Stoke-on-Trent South MP, from 1966 to 1992.
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After retiring as an MP he became Lord Ashley of Stoke, and continued in his role as champion of the underdog.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley, below, who sat alongside Ashley in the House of Commons, led tributes from North Staffordshire's politicians.
She said: "Jack was already well established as an MP when I was first elected. He was totally genuine, totally compassionate, formidable in every way, and true to the values he believed in.
"His disability never prevented him from being a colossus, in terms of the work that he did. He was liked by everybody."
"I think in Stoke-on-Trent he will be remembered as a true Labour stalwart, who always served the people of the city. He lived his life according to what he believed in."
Lord Ashley, who was named as one of Stoke-on-Trent's 12 greatest citizens during the centenary celebrations in 2010, was once tipped as a future Prime Minister.
But after losing his hearing just two years after being elected he instead became a fierce advocate for the disabled and other groups who lacked a voice at Westminster.
During his political career he campaigned tirelessly for deaf and blind people, as well as victims of thalidomide, domestic violence, bullying in the army and any other kind of injustice.
In 1986 he founded the charity Defeating Deafness, which is now known as Deafness Research UK.
Mrs Walley added: "Jack should have risen to the highest ministerial office, but I think if that had been the case, he may not have been able to achieve all that he did. As it was, he was able to work far more on the things that he cared about, such as the work he did for disabled people.
"He was always very supportive of me, especially when I was first elected to Parliament. At that stage he was the longest serving of all the city's MPs.
"One thing I remember about Jack is how we fought to get Parliament to pay for a new piece of equipment which helped him to follow debates in the house. We won that battle, and I remember sitting next to him during a debate and seeing how much easier it was for him.
"Jack was really well respected by everybody, which is something you don't really see nowadays."
In Stoke-on-Trent, Lord Ashley will be remembered for campaigning on issues such as subsidence and miners' welfare, and for his involvement in the fight to save Shelton Bar from closure.
Politicians from across North Staffordshire said Lord Ashley had been a huge inspiration.
Current Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello said: "Jack was as great a person as he was a Parliamentarian, and he will be deeply missed.
"He was held in the greatest affection in the constituency, not just by Labour party members and supporters, but by everybody. This is testimony to the work he did both in his role as a constituency MP and for people with disabilities."
Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt said: "Jack Ashley did a lot of work for the city, but was also a great battler for disabled rights, at a time when it wasn't really a high profile issue."
Newcastle Labour MP Paul Farrelly said: "Jack was the MP for Stoke-on-Trent South just before my time, but I used to see him regularly at Westminster when he was still an active campaigner for good causes as a member of the House of Lords.
"During the early part of his career, he was so highly regarded that he was often talked about as a potential leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister.
"But sadly, illness took away his hearing, and he then redefined himself as a campaigner for good causes."
Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Mohammed Pervez said: "I was deeply saddened to learn that Lord Ashley has passed away.
"He had contributed a lot to Stoke-on-Trent, and was a real advocate and campaigner for disadvantaged people."
Vivienne Michael, chief executive of Deafness Research UK, said that in overcoming his own deafness, Lord Ashley had become an inspirational role model.
She said: "Jack was a remarkable man who rose from humble beginnings to be one of the best known and most loved people in British public life.
"Together with his wife Pauline, Jack campaigned bravely and tirelessly on behalf of those with disabilities.
"Jack said later that they had realised the amazing potential of medical research after attending a conference at which the scientists talked about the possibility of curing deafness by regenerating the cells in the inner ear.
"At the time deafness was alone among the major disabilities in having no charity dedicated to raising the funds necessary for this sort of groundbreaking work and they were determined to fill that gap."
Lord Ashley is survived by his three daughters, Jackie Ashley, Jane Ashley, and Caroline Ashley.
Jackie Ashley, the wife of BBC presenter Andrew Marr, paid tribute to her father on Twitter. She wrote: "My wonderful, brave and adored father, Jack Ashley, Lord Ashley of Stoke, has died after a short battle with pneumonia."
Also on Twitter, Jane Ashley said: "RIP Dad – my wonderful father, Jack Ashley, Lord Ashley of Stoke, who was so loved and inspired so many people."
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