The family of Kelvin Glendenning, leader of Corby Borough Council for 21 years, has paid tribute to him after his death at the age of 98 last month.
Described by his family Mr Glendenning was a ‘hero’ and ‘iconic’ and fondly remembered as a family man who cared deeply about the people of Corby, his adopted home.
Granddaughter Sarah Pettit writes:
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Kelvin was born in 1923 in North Wales and died just over a year short of his 100th birthday.
He lived a long and interesting life. He had three daughters, one son, a step-daughter, 11 grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren.
At the end of his life he loved and cared for his wife Irene who had dementia, refusing to put her in a home. She was cared for at home until her death in January this year at the age of 89.
Kelvin was loved and cared for by his son Jonathan and Lisa his daughter-in-law, whom he loved like a daughter. Up until the end he was surrounded by his family.
Born in North Wales
Born into a large family which included nine brothers and sisters in Queensferry, North Wales, his mother owned and ran a fishmongers business while his father worked as a steelworker.
At the age of just 17, and keen to serve for his country, he ran away from home to fight in the war, he had to lie about his age.
He fought in WW2 in the Royal Air Force. In 1940 he volunteered to the Royal East Kent regiment – known as BUFFS based in Canterbury.
In 1942 a new regiment was formed in the royal air force, to guard airfields and he was drafted to them.
Kelvin was then sent to Burma with the RAF to guard airfields there, where he eventually worked in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp.
His Son-In-law Martin Leaver (Dougal) said: “We made a big trip to Singapore about ten years ago where he took me around all the places he served in the RAF. It was so moving.”
Activism post-Second World War
He met his first wife Cora in 1940 and continued to date her when he was home on leave, they married in 1944.
They lived in London where daughter Anne was born in 1945, but accommodation was hard to find so they moved to back to Queensferry in North Wales. He worked there in the steel industry where it seems his activism began and as shop steward he would fight for better conditions for the men there, regularly bringing them out on strike.
In 1947 a second daughter Shirley was born. The growing family moved to Swindon for work, where Kelvin was a paid political agent for the Labour Party and was given his own office and accommodation.
Anne, his oldest daughter, remembers living above the Labour Party office and how all the Labour Party leaflets were produced there.
Cora and Kelvin had their third daughter Lynne in 1954 in Swindon. Lynne sadly passed away in 2015 – she left behind two daughters Maria and Michaela who remained close to their grandfather.
Kelvin worked for the Labour MP Sir Geoffrey de Freitas, who left office in 1961 and this is when Kelvin’s work as a political agent seemed to stop.
Daughter Shirley Bellis said: “He was doing some really important work for the MP, who I believe was in government at the time. Dad was passionate about the rebuilding of the country after the war and really believed he was helping to make a difference. I even remember during a protest he laid down in front of a truck he was that passionate about it.”
During his time as a political agent he was blacklisted with employers as a potential ‘left-wing troublemaker’ and found it hard to find work, he managed to get some work at Twinings Tea in Wiltshire, but they soon discovered that he was blacklisted and was sacked – Shirley remembers him coming home telling the family.
The move to Corby
He applied for many jobs and the only place that didn’t check the blacklist was Corby Steel works. He managed to secure a house and a job, and moved to Corby with his family in 1962.
Shirley said: “I was sad to leave Swindon, but I knew my dad needed to find work, so we moved to Corby – we were grateful for the work and the house that was provided by Stuart and Lloyds.”
“Kelvin never left his passion for the Labour Party behind and became a Labour councillor in 1964 in Corby. Whilst continuing to work at Corby Steel works.”
Granddaughter Sarah Pettit said: “My Grandad told me a lot of stories about those days and how awful the working conditions were for the men working there. He became a shop steward and helped to push for better pay and rights for the men.”.
Kelvin became chairman of the council in 1970 to 1971 where he attended many events.
Daughter Anne Blunsom said: “My Mum always looked so glamorous when she attended functions with my dad, I remember the chains he wore.”
Kelvin met Irene, his second wife in the early 1970s. Married in 1975 – they had a long and happy marriage and were married for nearly 50 years. They had a son Jonathan.
In 1974, Kelvin became Labour Party Group Leader. Labour lost control of Corby Council in 1976. In 1979 Labour won the local elections and Kelvin became Leader of Corby District Council.
The steelworks close and 11,000 jobs axed
In February 1979, British Steel announced plans to close the steelworks, the town’s main employer. The works closed in 1980 and with it 11,000 jobs were lost.
Sarah said: “I remember moving to Corby at the age of nine in 1980 and witnessing the town centre full of grown men hanging around drinking, there just seemed to be a sense of no hope for them, I clearly remember men fighting each other, I was so shocked.
"I know now that the men were trying to numb their sense of no worth with alcohol. Unemployment was at a record 30 per cent. I didn't quite understand what my grandad was doing at this time,
but he still managed to care for his immediate family in between the many council meetings he would attend, trying to fight for a better future in Corby.”
As leader Kelvin was given extra powers to meet the needs of Corby during a time when it was on the verge of turning into a ghost town.
Corby rises from the ashes
He was one of the officials responsible for bringing an Enterprise Zone to the area where industry could come and set themselves up rent free for a year. Kelvin began visiting other struggling towns and cities to pass on best practice.
Over 800 companies moved to Corby and by the 1990s 13,000 jobs had been created.
Kelvin began a decade-long policy to visit other countries to try and secure work and other opportunities for the people of Corby and try to regenerate the area.
Sarah said: “I remember when he visited China back in the 1990s he had the foresight to see that they would become a major manufacturer in the world and he managed to establish links to bring manufacturing to Corby.
"He visited countries all around the world encouraging industries like Curver and RS Components to operate in the town.”
In 1982 Kelvin showed the Queen around Corby which coincided with her visit to the then Queen Elizabeth School named after her.
Sarah said: “I had no idea that my Grandad was showing the Queen around Corby, until I saw photographs in the Evening Telegraph – he didn’t talk about what he was doing day to day. Coincidentally, I was one of the children at Queen Elizabeth School and I was in the crowd the day she visited and she came over and spoke to me.”
In 1983 Kelvin was awarded an OBE for his outstanding contribution to the town of Corby. He collected his medal with his second family, wife Irene and son Jonathan.
Son Jonathan said: ”I am extremely proud of everything my dad achieved throughout his long and interesting life, he was my hero. He was an iconic figure in Corby and when he died it was like a piece of Corby had died too.”
Sarah said: “When I became a teenager in the late 1980s Corby felt very different, to the town I moved to in 1980. There were more opportunities, and employment opportunities were abundant.
"I worked in many factories during my school holidays. I even had hopes to go to university, something my school friends and I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing a decade ago, Corby was vibrant and hopeful.”
Fall from power and a new career
In 1995 Kelvin lost his labour whip at the age of 76, an age where most men had been retired for a decade. He lost the local elections in May of that year standing as an independent councillor, but his life was certainly not over.
He continued to work firstly alongside his daughter Lynne and later for his step-daughter Kate who both had businesses selling army surplus clothing in Northampton and Corby
Sarah said: “This kept him interested in life and gave him a new purpose, he enjoyed sharing his experiences from his war days with the enthusiasts that came in the shop often just to sit and
chat with him."
Sarah said: “My Grandad meant so much to me that I was pleased to ask him to give me away on my wedding day in 2017. I felt so proud.
He came down with family to Wiltshire and was able to walk me down the aisle. It was a lovely wedding and I think he really enjoyed it."Throughout his life he was a great dog lover and had many Labradors. He walked his beloved dog Buddy right into his late 90s which kept him fit and strong.
Sarah added: “He was so independent that I was really proud. He continued with family life but he always kept a close eye on politics.
"I think fundamentally my grandad left his family and the people of Corby a legacy of ‘care’. He cared deeply for people all his life and he tried to do better for Corby and the Corby people.
“I believe he made tough business-like decisions for Corby that went beyond local party politics, always with the bigger picture in mind, these decisions have helped shape the Corby we see
today, always evolving."
Mr Glendenning’s funeral will be held at St John The Baptist Church Corby at 11.30am followed by a burial at Shire Lodge Cemetery at 12.30pm.
He is survived by his children Anne Blunsom, Shirley Bellis and Jonathan Glendenning, daughter-in-law Lisa Abbott and and stepdaughter Katie Beynon.
And grandchildren Sarah Pettitt, Daniel Bellis, Jane Dowdney, Steve Graham, Maria Leaver, Michaela Leaver, Andrew Thompson, Sebastian Glendenning, Skylar Glendenning, Henrietta Beynon, Jamie Beynon, Martin Gilbert and Frazer Green. And multiple great-grandchildren.