Lives Remembered: Geoff Kelly


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The Independent Online

Industrial disputes and football refereeing have little in common except that both impinge on the public consciousness only when mistakes are made. My father Geoffrey Kelly, an industrial relations officer during the week and referee at weekends, was never happier than when his interventions, whether at the negotiating table or on the football pitch, went unnoticed.

Born in Woking in 1927, he attended Guildford Royal Grammar School, but left after his General Schools Certificate due to his family's financial circumstances. After serving with the British Army of Occupation in Austria he returned to work for Southern Railways in 1947 but, increasingly politically aware, took a job with his trade union, the Transport and Salaried Staff Association, in the early 1950s. In 1965 he crossed the negotiating table, moving to the Local Authorities Conditions of Service Advisory Board (LACSAB).

During this period LACSAB represented local authorities in national pay negotiations, meaning that he nownegotiated against, instead of for, the trade unions. This may appear a strange move for a former Labour activist, but he always claimed it took just as long to persuade the employers to put areasonable offer on the table as it did to get the unions to accept it. The 1970s were the heyday of collective bargaining and LACSAB was in the middle of this, facing down the big public sector unions such as the NUT and NALGO. Geoff inhabited the bleak no-man's land between political rhetoric andreality, and the Labour activist of the 1950s gradually turned into a committed floating voter.

Refereeing may not seem the most obvious choice of relaxation whenMonday to Friday involves trying to make two opposing parties see sense, but it reflected a deep love of football. One unlikely highlight of those days was to referee a match between a scratch team from a Butlin's holiday camp and Matt Busby's Manchester United, who were holding a pre-season training camp nearby.

Anxious not to stagnate mentally in retirement, Geoff served on industrial tribunals until he was 70. He specialised in race relations cases and his detailed knowledge of the relevant legislation allowed him to continue to broaden his cultural horizons even while he was in Bart's Hospital in 2007. Knowing that discrimination on the grounds of race or religion was illegal, he was able to eat a varied diet, choosing from the Halal menu one day, the kosher menu the next, and so on until he was discharged. He also helped weekly at two local schools almost until his final admission to hospital.

A committed Christian, he was a member of St Peter's Church, Harold Wood, for nearly 50 years. His faith gave him the moral courage to grapple with decisions of national significanceat the peak of his career, the humility to get on with unsung, unglamorous, jobs throughout his retirement andan inner serenity which lasted right up to the moment the final whistle blew. He died on 24 May at Queen's Hospital in Romford.

Martyn Kelly

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