Love him or hate him, you couldn’t possibly ignore him. That may well be Tom Brennan’s epitaph.
But that would be too simplistic and do a huge disservice to a man who, at the age of 79, remains as fiercely passionate about his native Stoke-on-Trent as he was when first elected a councillor almost 40 years ago.
What’s more, Tom is that rare beast: A councillor who can look back on his unblemished period of office with a mixture of pride and satisfaction – having gifted the people of the Potteries some tremendous benefits.
Born in 1933, there was little to suggest the lad taught mainly by nuns at St. Joseph’s RC School in Burslem was destined for a career in politics.
Having learned his trade as a painter and decorator, Tom completed three years’ service with the Irish Guards.
He went on to work in the building trade before taking a job, like other members of his family before him, with the very Catholic-orientated Michelin tyre firm.
It was there that Tom, who became a shop steward, met the likes of local politicians Leon and Stan Bate who suggested he join the local Labour party. Within 18 months he was elected as a councillor at the then acceptable age of 40.
Tom, who lives in Bucknall with his wife Elaine, recalls: “It was a real culture shock to me. Suddenly I was in a position to be able to represent all of these people in my area.
“I was very proud. I did a four-year college course, paid for by the Labour party, which trained us to be good councillors and schooled us in the art of politics.
“I finished it and even received a certificate signed by Jim Callaghan (who went on to become Prime Minister in 1976).
“I was full of enthusiasm and remember attending my first meeting up at Hanley Town Hall.
“Jim Westwood was leader of the Labour group back then and when I stuck my hand up at the end of the meeting to ask about national policies he made it very clear to me that the local party ruled the roost in Stoke-on-Trent and they didn’t listen to national politicians.
“I wasn’t downhearted by this. When you’ve done three years with the Guards and been a drill instructor you learn to cope with shouting and bawling and how to give it back.”
This refusal to be intimidated and an unwillingness to take ‘no’ for an answer was to serve Tom well over the next 21 years as a serving councillor.
The City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year Awards, organised by The Sentinel and now in its 38th year, was Tom’s brainchild.
A talented athlete in his youth, he was also the key player in the creation of Northwood Stadium.
Tom remembers: “Under the ‘any other business’ section of a meeting of the parks and recreation committee I stuck my hand up and asked why Stoke-on-Trent didn’t have a running track like other cities.
“The chairman at the time was Joe Monks-Neil. You have to bear in mind that, back then, the chairmen of council committees were all-powerful. It’s not like that these days.
“Joe asked me who I thought I was to be asking a question like that. He said the council had more important issues to think about like slum clearance and land reclamation.
“But I wouldn’t let it lie and I just kept niggling away.
“I got myself onto the Northwood Management Committee and worked to help bring together the various councils and funding bodies who stumped up about £4.5 million to pay for the stadium.”
More than a decade later, in 1985, Northwood Stadium was officially opened and Tom’s involvement in its creation is now acknowledged there with a plaque.
Tom looks back on his time as a councillor with great fondness and a real sense of achievement.
He said: “Elaine did a terrific job of bringing up our two children and I am very proud of them all.
“Crucially she supported me every step of the way through my endeavours as a councillor and there were times she barely saw me.
“Elaine just knew it was something I was very passionate about. I still am.”
Something which Mrs Brennan was able to play a full role in, however, was Tom’s period of office as the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent (1982/3).
He is now the second oldest surviving Lord Mayor of the city.
Tom recalls: “I was tremendously proud to represent the city. I think we attended more than 1,700 engagements that year. These included a visit to London at the request of the Lord Mayor of London along with all the other civic heads and an audience with Pope John Paul II.”
When Tom heard earlier this year that, as part of cutbacks, the city council was looking at doing away with the ceremonial role of Lord Mayor and its associated costs he was horrified.
He said: “I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself: ‘Where do they get these mad ideas from?’ I am a Labour man through and through – a socialist and proud. But having served as the Queen’s representative I understand the importance of such roles – the distinction of having a Lord Mayor – and I will defend the idea to my dying day.”
Tom believes the role of councillors has changed since his day and that their power and influence has waned somewhat.
He said: “I don’t believe that councillors in 2012 have the same opportunities and wield the same power as they did 30 years ago.
“That’s a good and bad thing, I suppose, and I dare say getting something like Northwood Stadium would be beyond modern-day councillors and I feel sorry for them in away.”
However, Tom says that even with the changes and knowing what he knows now, he would happily start over as a councillor tomorrow.
He said: “You never stop caring. You never stop wanting to help people. It gets in your blood.”
Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel for 12 pages of nostlagia