Cliff Williams – we have lost one of our union’s best

As many of you know, Cliff Williams, our Assistant General Secretary, sadly died on Friday 15thDecember.

Cliff’s service to our union spanned three decades. Born in Oldham, he moved to Yorkshire to work for Yorkshire Water before joining NALGO. He adopted the region, working there for thirty years, and in turn the region adopted Cliff. He served as District Organisation Officer, before becoming Regional Secretary when UNISON was created in 1993. In the years that followed, he built a formidable team of lay members and staff from across the partner unions and laid the foundations for a strong and influential region.

Cliff was heavily involved in the regional TUC and until he died remained Chair of Yorkshire and Humber Labour Party. He was widely respected across the party both nationally and regionally and used his skills as an astute strategist and a born organiser to support every MP and councillor. Cliff built long standing friendships with many MPs and only ever had one demand of them all – that they, like him, put our members first.

In 2010, Cliff was appointed AGS, overseeing all of our regions. It was a post he loved and undertook with his customary commitment, dedication and passion. His incisive intellect and pragmatism saw our union turn a corner as we faced the attacks of the Coalition government. It was Cliff who masterminded the Fighting Fund scheme, boosting support for branches. It was Cliff who managed our budget to protect our campaigning capacity. And it was Cliff who everyone turned to for support and wise advice when they were up against it.

Yet despite his pivotal role, Cliff never sought the limelight or any accolades. His only ambition was to serve our union and deliver for the members he loved. From first thing in the morning until late at night, Cliff worked relentlessly – advising members and being a trusted and supportive colleague to us all – regardless of the issue or time of day.

Despite his illness, Cliff continued to work from Yorkshire. With long emails and detailed texts, he continued to manage and support others. He commandeered a room in his local pub in Malton, that was soon nicknamed “the office”. His friends, colleagues, lay activists and staff travelled from across the country to spend time with him, enjoy his company and catch up on work. An hour with Cliff was like gold dust.

I was fortunate to have seen him only a week before he died. We spent the afternoon together in “the office”. Yet despite his obvious pain and his gruelling treatment, there were no complaints – no mention of himself or the illness that would soon take him from us. Instead he handed me 16 pages of meticulously written notes. They were his ideas, suggestions for tackling the issues we face and plans for taking the union forward.

Thinking of others, never himself, thinking of our union even at the most difficult times – that for me is and always will be Cliff.

Everyone who worked closely with Cliff will miss his counsel, his support and his commitment – and I know his words “leave it with me, I’ll sort it”, will echo around our union for years to come. All of us who worked with him and laughed with him will miss him. All of us who learned from him and relied on him will miss him. All of us will miss Cliff so, so much.

Yet whilst the union meant so much to him, nothing mattered more than his family.

Sharon, his wife and our friend and colleague, was the love of his life – his soul mate. Their relationship was strong – it was special. With a wide circle of long-standing and loyal friends both in London and Yorkshire – they were always good company and great fun. Yet it was their kindness, their warmth and their consideration of others that we will never forget.

Cliff’s life revolved around his beloved daughters, Liv and Ria. We often shared stories, the trials and tribulations of daughters – late night parties then late-night lifts, boyfriends, dancing lessons, driving lessons, university and the universal Bank of Dad.

We laughed and smiled and every time he spoke of them, his eyes shone and his face lit up – beaming at everything they had achieved. They will always be his pride and joy.

Sharon and the girls cared for Cliff right to the end and I cannot imagine their sense of loss. All of our thoughts and love are with them, Cliff’s mum and all his family as they mourn his passing.

It’s true to say that a great sense of sadness has descended on our union these last few days as we come to terms with Cliff’s death. Yet there is also a true sense of warmth, of supporting each other and of solidarity as we come together to share memories of our dedicated colleague and our very special friend.  And just as our union owes so much to Cliff, we his friends and his colleagues do too. Cliff will always be a special part of our union and he will always have a special place in our hearts.  He will always be my special friend.

Thank You Cliff. Rest in Peace.