Harold Bodmer: An exceptional man who made lives better for many people

Harold Bodmer, executive director of Norfolk County Council's adult social services department, has

Harold Bodmer, executive director of Norfolk County Council's adult social services department, has died. - Credit: Archant

There was a rather brief immediate announcement that Harold Bodmer had died suddenly during a meeting at County Hall on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Harold had been the Executive Director of Community Services for Norfolk County Council.

In this role his major responsibility and focus had been on adult social care; he was after all a social worker by training and instinct, a man with a deep interest in, as well as compassion for, people.

My knowledge of him came from being the chairman of the Norfolk Older People's Strategic Partnership and I write from that perspective, representing the views of a sizeable proportion of the work of his department.

In these years of stringency Harold also had to be responsible for making highly unpopular and substantial cuts to services for groups of people who were frail, disabled and disadvantaged in many, many ways. This is the type of situation that generally makes people highly unpopular and loses friends rather quickly. Yet the initial brief announcement was followed by an outpouring of messages of shock and disbelief yes, but also of real affection for this person universally described as a very nice man – describing him as someone it was good to work with, held by all in the highest respect, and trusted.

Now that is a word to conjure with, one that is not used lightly, especially for someone in his position – making cuts in budgets and grants that hurt – and yet we all knew that he balanced these decisions with the greatest care and consideration, taking an all-round view to get the greatest good possible out of any decision and to minimise any bad.

My meetings with him began when I was asked to chair the Norfolk Older People's Strategic Partnership and I thought that since the small amount of funding that we had came from him, I had better check out whether he was about to take that money away before I gave an answer.

That funding is essential – it's very hard to run an organisation on nothing – and I knew that I no longer have the kind of energy you need to get funds in these days, although I have done plenty of fundraising in the past.

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He was courteous, of course, and easy to talk to and quickly reassured me so that I felt able to take on the job and we could discuss some of the nuts and bolts; we seemed to be on the same wavelength and wanting to achieve the same things together. Harold wanted a strong voice for older people that he could consult and that could give him soundly based advice direct from the people likely to be affected by any changes.

He had been responsible for setting up the group in the first place. He totally understood the importance to adult social care of the very large and growing proportion of older people in the county of Norfolk, and the group had taken quite a while to get going and find its feet, but now it had and was ready to go. This was just one example of his far sightedness and patience in understanding the way to go and achieving it.

Harold continued to attend our quarterly meetings on a regular basis and contributed as appropriate. Latterly we saw him less often in the public meetings but we still kept up our regular exchange sessions as we all found them useful.

Yet they were more than just useful; the spirit that developed of trust and candour with a light touch, meant that these meetings were far from a chore although kept focused since we had to make the best use of the time available.

I count myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Harold, someone who regarded himself as a public servant there to do the best for his area of responsibility for the county of Norfolk. Not many people in his position take such a humble view of what they are doing or retain the ability to talk to people at any level, and be interested in them and their lives, whoever they are. Older people in Norfolk should know that he has made life more tolerable for many of them and that he has left a legacy of the importance of the need for sensitive care of the more frail and vulnerable amongst us. This has to be a marker for a civilised society.

The sheer range of people taking the trouble to pay heartfelt and generous tribute to Harold in this paper and elsewhere, encapsulates this wonderfully, as well as giving a clear portrait of a truly exceptional man and I sincerely hope that this helps to give some comfort in the coming days to his grieving family.

• Joyce Hopwood is on the Norfolk Health and WellBeing Board representing the voluntary sector ie the Norfolk Council on Ageing, and on behalf of the H&WBB is their dementia champion and chairs their Dementia Strategy Implementation Board, which seeks to improve conditions and support for people with dementia and their carers in Norfolk.