"Thank you for listening to me": tributes to Preston's longest-serving city councillor after his death at the age of 71

Tributes have been paid from across the political divide to the longest-sitting current member of Preston City Council who has died at the age of 71.

Sunday, 13th March 2022, 1:47 pm
Updated Sunday, 13th March 2022, 1:48 pm
The late Cllr John Browne, who represented the Brookfield ward on Preston City Council and sat on the authority from 1983 until 2022 (image: Preston City Council)
The late Cllr John Browne, who represented the Brookfield ward on Preston City Council and sat on the authority from 1983 until 2022 (image: Preston City Council)

John Browne was first elected to what was then Preston Borough Council in May 1983 and the Labour representative was still serving his Brookfield ward in the north east of the city almost 39 years later.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that he passed away having been suffering from cancer for some time.

After a brief absence because of his illness, Cllr Browne was back in the chamber at Preston Town Hall less than three weeks ago for the authority’s budget meeting.

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He used a speech to condemn the Tory ‘levelling up’ agenda as “just a lot of wind from a government that wants to do it on the cheap - and, of course, it won't work”.

However, he ended his typically fiery contribution with customary politeness and his traditional closing: “Thank you for listening to me.”

Labour council leader Matthew Brown said that his stalwart colleague’s “spirit, determination and attitude towards people” had been undimmed even by his own ill health.

“He still carried on doing what he was doing - caring about others, which is what he did throughout his career.

“He was a very independent-minded guy and was quite anti-establishment in many ways. He always stuck to what he believed in and he wasn’t one of those politicians who shifts like the wind to try and gain personal advantage - he was the complete opposite to that and you need people in politics like John.

“He was very principled in terms of what he thought was the correct thing to do and was also a very selfless guy.

“John was always laughing, was fun to be around and was quite eccentric - in a good way - which I thought was brilliant. But he always put the interests of his residents first and was very well-loved within the Labour group,” Cllr Brown added.

Cllr Browne had a career as a mental health nurse and worked at the now defunct Whittingham Hospital on the outskirts of Preston.

After taking early retirement - and remaining single - he focused on his council duties, which at the time of his death, included being chair of the licensing committee and vice-chair of the taxi and miscellaneous committee. Previously, he had led the council’s planning committee.

Cllr Browne was a vociferous anti-austerity campaigner and had particularly focused on fighting against the so-called “bedroom tax”. A staunch Catholic, he was also known for his efforts to promote human rights.

Conservative opposition group leader Sue Whittam said that she and her party were saddened to learn of Cllr Browne’s passing - and paid tribute to the man, as well as the politician.

“We may have been on opposite sides politically, but he was always very kind to me personally. We spent many a time together covering polling stations during elections and we always had a good chat - about everything, not only politics.

“He will be greatly missed in the council chamber and I send our sincere condolences on behalf of the Conservative group," Cllr Whittam said.

Deputy Liberal Democrat group leader - and current deputy mayor - Neil Darby added that Cllr Browne would be “sorely missed” by the entire authority.

“He was always the kindest and most eloquent person in the room, with a nice word for anyone. John stood firm on his beliefs and his principles, but would always listen to all sides of a debate.

“Preston and the city council are poorer for his loss. Our thoughts are with John's friends and family."

Reflecting on John Browne’s near 40 years of service to the city - amongst the longest in the history of Preston Council - Cllr Brown said that his comrade made a difference right to the end.

“The problem comes when people continue to [sit as a councillor] because it's a way of life, but they don't have anything more to offer.

“John was very different - always open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. In his early 70s, he was [still] very young in his mind.”