John Colby Clarke: Campaigner for grassroots in Norfolk

A pillar of local government for 40 years and a south Norfolk farmer, John Colby Clarke, has died peacefully aged 81.

He was a passionate campaigner from the grassroots, who strongly believed that the voice of the parish council had to be heard.

Further, he told the EDP that government spending cuts would mean more of a role for local councils. 'Parish councils are having to replace those services which are lost,' he said in April 1987. And almost a quarter of a century later, this concept of 'localism' is making headlines.

Born in Ipswich, the middle of three children, the ten-year-old was sent to Vancouver in Canada in 1940. His sisters, Mary then 15 and Biddy, aged seven, were boarded with an aunt while John stayed with another relation until 1944 when he returned home. But he bought some wheat seeds back, which he planted in the garden – a sign of his love of the land.


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He went to Woodbridge School but always wanted to farm. He gained further experience, working for a couple of years in Sweden, mainly with fruit, before returning to his native Suffolk to work on farms.

In 1958, with his younger sister, he bought Town Farm, Pulham St Mary. Gradually, it was expanded to about 28 acres and for almost 30 years, he milked a Jersey dairy herd seven days a week, twice a day.

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Elected to the parish council in 1969, four years later he became an executive member of the Norfolk County Association of Town and Parish Councils. He was elected president at County Hall in October 1981 and later served as chairman between 1983 and 1986. When he stood down in 2003 from what is now the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, he had been involved at a local and national level for about 30 years. He had represented the county on the national association and was treasurer for almost 20 years until standing down in 2001.

In search of a further challenge, the retired dairy farmer, who was parish council chairman for many years, was elected national chairman of the Village Hall Forum in 2003, which represented thousands of halls up and down the country.

He was made a board member of WREN, which distributed grants for local 'green' initiatives, and travelled the county and further afield to assess potential applications.

He had a great love of churches and was an executive member of the Norfolk Churches Trust. In retirement, as he had wound down his farming activities and sold his milk quota, he even had time to support his beloved Ipswich Town and was a season ticket holder.

Married to Dinah for 46 years, he leaves two sons and a daughter, Crumpton, James and Carrie, and two grandsons. He is survived by both his sisters.

A service of thanksgiving will be held at Pulham St Mary's Church, on Friday, August 12 at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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