Walter John Suett was a solid man
He knew where he stood and what he stood for
And good luck to anyone who tried to shift him
He was born into the Back-to-Backs of Barford Street in 1945
Son of Walter and Frances Suett
Bombsites were his playgrounds
A Satsuma for Christmas and two big bronze pennies;
acid dipped to shine in the palm of his hand, as good as new.
He would ride high, swaying on the woodman’s stack of timber.
A small boy boosted to sit astride Roy Roger’s horse one night in the darkened stables.
A fledgling engineer building a push bike from scavenged parts.
His father was strict, his mother strict Catholic,
St. Marks School combining the two.
Here Walter met Tom and an epic friendship was drop-forged.
Seconday School finished on Friday and Walter started his first job on Monday,
It didn’t suit or stick but it taught him machine tooling.
National Service took local lads to faraway lands.
Walter saw foreign sights and served in Aden
Hands on a gun, a small hand in history.
Back home he walked through the gates of Austin Rover with his father.
He cut gears and, day after day, handed them to Ted:
another friendship welded: corrosion free.
Walter was always punctual – he was a time and motions engineer.
Walter was a cautious driver – he was a health and safety officer.
Walter was a man of principle – he was an elected union official.
He rose through the union ranks to secret sandwices at Chateaux Impney
haggling new working practices for the workers in tumultuous times.
He was elected a Councillor – overseeing social services.
“Did I ever tell you of the Zebra crossing we got installed…”
If not once then two dozen times.
As Councillor he attended a tea party at Buckingham Palace before finally,
as a sign of the times in Birmingham and beyond – Suett was replacedby Currie; Edwina was on the march and Walter was moving on.
He was plagued by ill health, as a child he suffered numerous serious conditions including one which permanently damaged his eye-sight. His fatherdied aged just fifty and Walter nursed his mother at their home on Central Avenueas she struggled against cancer and slowly died. He took early retirementdue to ill health, a move which freed him to do more work, of the voluntary kind -twelve valuable years at the Citizens Advice Bureau, helping people to gain controlof their own lives, working with a team he respected and whose company he enjoyed.
Nineteen years ago Walter met Mavis and they embarked on a partnership that – despite Mavis insisting on wearing trousers and even occasionally driving a car – endured beyond many marriages. Walter loved Scotland and Italy and would talk of their holidaying together in those spectacular countries, but ultimately they always ended up closer to home, with the dog, invariably it seemed, choosing a fortnight destined to break British rain-fall records. They were sealed water-tight, a blessing.
You had to look carefully, but if you did it was clear that Walter was at heart an emotional, even sentimental man.Though without children himself, he cared deeply for them.
When governorships were introduced for state schools Walter, with typical commitment, took on five. In recent yearshe was proud to be associated with Albert Bradbeer and Frankley Community High Schools as their Chair of Governorsand his extraordinary forty years of service in this field has just been acknowledged with an award fromBirmingham City Council.
His pleasure in the progress of his honorary grandchildren was genuine and heartfelt. His presents for themdisplayed both generosity and an uncanny sense of what young children would most enjoy.
Walter Suett was a solid man.
He knew his mind and wouldn’t mind telling you what was on it.
He believed in civility, polished shoes and Marks and Spencer,
He liked history, biography, war films and cowboy films,
Real ale and real people.
I once interviewed him about his days at Rover for a play I was writing.
He told many excellent stories which got absorbed into the show but I onlyused one direct quote (which, in deference to the loation I am going to paraphrase). It was everyone’s favourite line.
He described how, as a union activist, the bosses had sought to compromise him byoffering him a management job. The chance of this promotion must have been enticing but it would have been against his principals andHeaven knows, or at least is about to find out, how principled and stubborn Walter Suett is.
His reply was firm and to the point: “You can’t ride two horses with one back-side”.
Walter knew which horse he was on and rode it to the end.
He died possessing very little, a man rich in humanity.
He was salt of the earth.
God Bless you Wal
We miss you now and we always will.
14th April, 2011