The Funeral Service for County Councillor David Kirk, who died on August 16th at the age of 63, was held at the United Reform Church in Andover. He was the Executive Member for Children's Services at Hampshire County Council, and an Andover County Councillor since 1997.
The Rev Derek Overfield took the service in the church where David Kirk worshipped, and the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire was represented by Jane Benson, one of the Deputy Lieutenants.
Tributes were paid by Sir George Young, by the Leader of Hampshire County Council Ken Thornber CBE, and by John Coughlan MBE, the Director of Children's Services. (Some of these tributes appear below)
At the end, Alex Kirk - David's youngest son -gave a tribute entitled "My Dad."
At the service were David's widow and his two sons Mark and Alex, his parents and his brother and sister-in-law.
Also present were Caroline Nokes MP and Julian Lewis MP, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Test Valley. A large number of county and district councillors were also present together with members of David's wider family.
After the service in Andover there was a brief committal service at the Basingstoke Crematorium, and then the family invited guests to the Wyke Down County Pub and Restaurant at Picket Piece for refreshments and to share memories of David.
(See also news item for Aug 16th)
Tribute by Sir George Young
Our thoughts today are with Tracey and David’s family, to whom he was devoted. One of my abiding memories of him was at a Burns Night Supper in Charlton, when, wearing his kilt, David declaimed the Toast to the Lassies, holding Tracey’s hand as he did so.
I met David through the local party, and we campaigned together on the doorsteps of Andover on the three occasions when the County elections coincided with Parliament’s. He enjoyed his politics, he enjoyed engaging with voters and and he enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of debate.
There will be an opportunity at his memorial service to do full justice to David; in this brief tribute today I would pick out two qualities.
First, Courage. David was not a man meekly carried along by the current of public opinion. He was independently minded, with the courage to speak out when others remained silent. He fought hard for his schools and for the independence of the local authority that ran them. Whether the Minister came from his own Party or another made no difference. Many a time I have been approached in the House by Ministers who started off by saying I met a friend of yours called David Kirk at a local government conference. He was an interesting chap with good ideas who spoke his mind.
David also needed courage to defend the difficult decisions that went with the office that he held.
Politics needs strong brave men like David, committed to public service; and we need them in the Castle in Winchester every bit as much as at Westminster.
Second, Commitment. David worked hard and was a master of his brief. Local government is not simple, and education and social services are not only complex but politically sensitive. He navigated his way round the rocks, running a big department well in a large authority . He took his responsibilities seriously and was liked and respected by his staff, and was proud of their achievements. On behalf of my Parliamentary colleagues, some of whom are here today, I pay tribute to what he did for our constituents.
He also looked after his own constituents. He was in the Rendez-Vous in Union St, 50 yards from here, on the day before he died, helping someone whose child had special needs to access the right school.
I will remember David by his voice; and his laughter.
David was not a quiet man. He had a voice trained on the Army’s parade grounds. If David was at a party, it didn’t take long to find where it was being held. The varying tones of that voice represent the qualities I associate with David.
It could be authoritative, when David had decided on a particular course of action and when leadership was called for.
It could be persuasive as David developed his own solution to whatever problem was on the table.
But above all, it could be convivial, the voice and the laughter of a man who lived and enjoyed life to the full, right up to the moment when it was so tragically cut short.
His family have lost a devoted husband and father.
Hampshire has lost a hardworking public servant.
We have all lost a friend.
Farewell David. You were a good man.
Tribute by Ken Thornber CBE
Tribute to David Kirk
David’s untimely death has left a huge hole in the Cabinet of Hampshire County and within our Children’s Services department. It will be very difficult to replace a man of such expertise and commitment, who championed education both throughout Hampshire and on the national stage.
The shock of David’s death has been felt far and wide, and there have been many, many expressions of grief and gratitude. This outpouring of respect and affection for David will become an enduring legacy for Tracey, Mark, Alex and for their wider family. It will also be a source of consolation for my Cabinet, for our Officers and for me.
I know that Tracey is so grateful for such tributes and for the attendance here today of so many people.
We should not let the sadness of today prevent us from expressing our joy at a life which has touched so many people and served them so well. In the spirit of celebration, may I offer our congratulations in the midst of his grief, to Alex, David’s youngest son who, a few days after David passed away, learned that he had achieved the highest possible marks in his 4 A level examinations. Alex be sure that your father knew that you would do well, he was proud of you and proud of Mark.
His life was enriched by your being and your love.
We are very proud of you, as your father was. He was proud, too, of the 170,000 children in our education system for whom he was ultimately responsible, and whose wellbeing he championed at every level of government.
It will be said of David and many times too, that he was ‘larger than life’. He was a large man with a large voice and a large heart. When David was in a room you knew it! His voice never needed a microphone, when he had a cold his cough would perforate your eardrums, and his whispers to his colleagues at meetings could be heard yards away.
His laugh was infectious and constant, and if you wanted a party or a celebration then invite David and success was guaranteed. He was an amiable man and an entertaining colleague and friend.
But he had a large heart too. He was a kindly man who went out of his way to help anyone. His patience with colleagues who did not understand the complexities of our education system was remarkable and stemmed from his love of people and his desire to help them.
There is so much that one should say about David’s enormous contribution to Children’s Services in Hampshire and his work in Europe, but there will be an opportunity at his memorial service to pay full regard to his achievements.
Suffice it to say, for the moment, that David’s knowledge of education was profound, his commitment enormous, and his contribution unlikely to be surpassed. The teachers of Hampshire held him in the highest regard and with great affection.
This is true of his European colleagues and the 20 external organisations he served on.
In all of this, and as his commitments entailed that he worked very long hours, weekdays and weekends alike, he was so well supported by Tracey.
In Cabinet he took an active role expressing his own view on the many issues that came before us in addition to guiding us on Children’s Services matters. If he found himself in the minority on any decision he accepted this with grace and loyally supported the majority view.
He was a team player, he made a great contribution, he was loyal and I could not have asked for more.
For myself, I have lost a good friend whom I could always consult on a complex matter, safe in the knowledge that he would offer his advice in a kindly, impartial and straightforward way. He did so without bias, malice or guile and was invaluable to me as a critical friend.
I will miss him immensely as will the Cabinet and the elected Members of the County Council of all political persuasions, for every Councillor recognised the great contribution he was making.
David leaves a legacy in Hampshire that will not be surpassed. Through his and our Officers and staff efforts we have an educational and care service for our children which is acknowledged as amongst the best, if not the best, in the country.
David wanted quite simply to improve the life chances of the children this county, and he did not spare himself or his staff in pursuing that endeavour.
He knew that education is the most important investment that the country can make and upon which will depend our Economy, our Society, our Values and our way of life in the future. He believed that every child holds the key to that future and that each and every one of them deserve the very best education.
He leaves behind him a Children’s Services department that will always strive for the best for our children with motivated, dedicated staff, all within a caring, nurturing ethos that recognises the worth of every child and how precious they are.
This is David’s legacy for us all, and we must never lose sight of it or allow it to falter. We owe this to him and we owe him our gratitude and our prayers.
So, David, dear friend and colleague, rest from your labours and may the Lord bless you and keep you.
John Coughlan's Tribute
I first met David across a job interview table five years ago. It was a first encounter of the bruising kind – he gave me such a verbal going over, I was both surprised to get the job and especially worried about what I was letting myself in for. What would this imposing character be like to work with? Like others, I came to learn there was still more to him than met the eye.
This is probably not the time to go into detail about his membership of the office fish and chip club, or his role as guardian of the staff ketchup. Nor should I dwell here on his wicked habit of inviting new staff to come over for the weekend - and try out his hot-tub… Funnily enough, male colleagues rarely qualified for this invitation.
Others have mentioned that voice. The huge, booming, early warning system. As Derra once remarked after he and I’d had had a particularly colourful exchange in my office. “I don’t know why you bothered closing the door.” David’s voice was not designed for the open plan office. I wonder if I’ll miss hearing the frightening call from across the building – “Where’s my Director?!” It sits alongside his other favoured saying – “They don’t know me very well do they!” He used to save that one for those who were foolish enough to underestimate him – including various secretaries of state…
Because beyond the first impressions and the caricature, what I and other officers came to learn were some subtler truths about David. And yes, I do mean subtle. His standards and expectations of us were relentlessly high. But while he could make those demands of us, woe betide anyone else who tried to deal unfairly with us – he would be like a lion protecting its cubs. And so long as he was sure we were acting in the best interests of Hampshire, its children and its schools, he would support us and them to the hilt. And they knew it. He possessed a deep understanding of schools and children. And he believed passionately in the fundamental relationship between a great county council and its family of schools. For of all his appetites, his greatest seemed to be his appetite to work tirelessly for that cause.
It will be widely known that David would never shrink from taking tough decisions. It will be less well known how much he agonised about those decisions, thought through their implications for the people and the places, and always carefully considered advice from all sides.
So yes, David was all of the things you would see – and hear - from afar. He was indeed big, loud, opinionated, colourful and direct. He could be very direct. But he was so much more than that.
He was also highly intelligent and eager to learn. He was humorous and compassionate, especially where children were concerned. He was supportive, approachable, and fiercely, fiercely loyal. And he could be, just occasionally, wonderfully childish, which perhaps suited him to this role.
I do know I speak for all officers when I say how saddened we are to lose him. We know our loss is nothing to that of Tracy, Mark and Alex, of whom he was so proud. For all of our sadness we are grateful we knew David and grateful for the rich legacy he leaves in Hampshire Children’s Services. It is a legacy we will treasure.