Obituary: Geoffrey Calvert, soldier & politician

Politician and community councillor who fought through a tough time in local politics. Picture: PicasaPolitician and community councillor who fought through a tough time in local politics. Picture: Picasa
Politician and community councillor who fought through a tough time in local politics. Picture: Picasa
BORN: 2 March, 1946, in Newcastle. Died: 20 February, 2015, in Kirkcudbright, aged 68.

Geoff Calvert, who was 68, has died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Kirkcudbright, to where he had retired from the turbulent local government politics of West Dunbartonshire to become a community councillor in peaceful Dumfries and Galloway.

From 1995 until 2012, Calvert had been the Labour member of West Dunbartonshire Council for Dumbarton through a period of unprecedented turmoil and faction fighting which saw the Public Accounts Commission for Scotland holding an inquiry into its affairs in November, 2006, in Clydebank Town Hall.

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Calvert emerged as one of the “good guys” as senior Labour politicians launched a public broadside on their own party’s leadership on West Dunbartonshire Council with the then local MP and MSP, John McFall and Jackie Baillie, calling for Holyrood ministers to send in a hit squad to force change.

A series of astonishing accusations flowed at the inquiry by the local authority watchdog with allegations of widespread bullying and claims that a cabal of councillors had allocated millions of pounds to favour their own wards.

Not long afterwards Andrew White, the council leader, and his deputy, Jim Flynn, resigned from the council as the allegations piled up, including charges of contract fraud and irregular recruitment of members to rig candidate selection.

It was left to Geoff Calvert and other senior Labour members to steady the ship and fight an upcoming election which they won against the odds in 2007.

The election, which was the first in Scotland using the single transferable vote system, ended with an administrative shambles.

Labour won West Dunbartonshire in the end with ten seats to the SNP’s nine. Independents took two of the remaining three seats and the Scottish Socialists one.

Councillor Calvert polled 1,292 votes in the Dumbarton ward, beating Ian Robertson of the SNP and David McBride (Labour) into second and third place respectively.

He resigned his seat in 2012 a few months prior to the May elections that year and left Dumbarton to return to Kirkcudbright where he stayed after retiring from the army.

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Calvert had joined the army in 1966 and been promoted through the ranks of the Blues and Royals and Royal Dragoons.

He was to become the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 17/12 Lancers at Dundrennan Range, a weapons testing range on the Solway Firth, near Kirkcudbright.

The range is part of the Kirkcudbright Training Area, 4,700 acres of farming land acquired by the army in 1942 to train forces for the invasion of mainland Europe.

Calvert also served in the army in Germany and in Dorset before taking up his appointment in Kirkcudbright.

Geoff Calvert was a great walker whose hobby was hitch-hiking and it was during a hike to the north of Scotland that he met Cath, a Clydebank woman whom he married in 1972.

The couple lived in Kirkcudbright until 1989 when he retired from the army to seek a job in Civvy Street, which wasn’t an easy task since his only previous experience of work outside the forces had been as a youthful civil servant.

He had joined the civil service after leaving St Cuthbert’s secondary school in Newcastle, where he was born, the only son of George and Doris Calvert, in the city’s West End.

In Dumbarton, the couple settled first in Argyll Avenue in Crosslet and later moved to a house in Mary Fisher Crescent, which they left to return to Kirkcudbright in 2012.

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Since then Geoff was a member of Kirkcudbright Community Council and introduced the Citizen of the Year Award there.

His political career began in Dumbarton in 1995 when he represented the Bellsmyre ward and was proud of the progress he made on behalf of the community, forging close ties with the teachers, parents and pupils of St Peter’s and Aitkenbar primary schools.

When he moved into central Dumbarton, he campaigned tirelessly for improvements to the high flats at West Bridgend and strove to bring about improvements in the Town Centre, where there were battles to be fought on every front.

He became the Roads and Technical Services Committee convener, which kept him busy with so many changes taking place in the centre of the town and along the banks of the River Leven.

Calvert was also chairman of the Licensing Committee, another stressful appointment, which saw him being reported to the Standards Commission for unlawfully opposing an application from Nightingales Night Club in Balloch, an accusation of which he was cleared.

Geoff Calvert and his wife, Cath, enjoyed the social side of his work too, particularly making presentations to couples celebrating their golden wedding – “He liked to surprise them by finding out interesting nuggets of information about them for his speech, things they thought he would never know about,” said Cath.

One of the highlights of becoming the Deputy Provost was presenting the Freedom of West Dunbartonshire to the world famous Grand Prix racing driver Jackie Stewart, who is a native of Dumbarton.

Geoff Calvert is survived by his wife, Cath, and their sons Neil, 41, and Martin, 31.

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They had hoped to travel soon to the USA to see for the first time their first grandchild, Neil’s six-month-old son, Benjamin, but now Neil will be travelling to Scotland for his father’s funeral.

Geoff’s tragic death came when he collapsed at home while getting ready to take the family cat to the vet last Friday morning.

Cath and a local doctor and members of the emergency services failed in their efforts to revive him and he died in the house.

Geoff Calvert’s funeral will take place at St Andrew and St Cuthbert’s Church in Kirkcudbright at 10am on Tuesday, 3 March.