John Pennington obituary | Unions
My father, John Pennington, who died at the age of 94, was a civil servant, socialist and trade unionist, national president of the Society of Civil and Public Servants.
Born in Aughton, Lancashire, to James Pennington, a farmhand, and Amy (née Balmer), a seamstress, he attended St Edward’s RC Secondary School in Liverpool, leaving in 1945 with the intention of studying English, History and Classics at the University of Liverpool. Finding him oversubscribed with demobilized soldiers, he trained as a teacher at Bangor Normal College, North Wales.
He spent his national service as a staff sergeant in the Royal Army Education Corps, teaching illiterate young soldiers whose education had been affected by war and poverty. Stationed in Germany and Austria, he developed a love for the region’s language and music, committing to another five years with his regiment.
In 1950 he met Agnes Starbuck on a date in Liverpool and they married in 1952 and settled on the Wirral Peninsula. After the birth of their first child in 1953, John retired from the army for the sum of £60 and joined the civil service as a customs and excise officer.
He had great humanity and believed in fighting for fairness in the workplace. From 1955, he worked tirelessly for the trade unionists, becoming president of the Customs and Excise group, national union, in 1973. When it merged with the Society of Civil Servants in 1975, he became president of the merged union, the Society of Civil Servants and officials.
John was instrumental in trade union recognition campaigns including the Grunwick dispute (1976-78) and at GCHQ in 1984. A member of the Labor Party, he held senior positions as Secretary and Chairman of the Wirral in branch, district and circuit level.
John took early retirement from Customs and Excise and union work in 1985 to care for Agnès, who suffered from certain disabilities. He continued to serve on the Civil Service Appeal Board until 1997 and served as Governor at Hillside Primary School, Noctorum. He enjoyed following politics, hiking, birdwatching, music, his beloved garden and tackling The Guardian’s cryptic crossword daily. He also learned to speak German, practicing on the spot during trips to Germany and Austria with his eldest daughter.
Agnes passed away in 1999. John is survived by their five children, Miriam, Martin, Louise, Richard and me, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.