Although I was aware Jack Heald had been far from well in recent years, it was nevertheless with sadness I read last week of his passing at the age of 86. Tributes to him in the local media have been well deserved.
The first time we made contact was 60 years ago, in 1954, when as a junior reporter with the Clitheroe and Advertiser Times I was involved with a news item which had a West Craven connection. A colleague suggested I should get in touch with one Jack Heald, of the Craven Herald, who would help with the information I sought. And so he did.
Some years later, working with the Leader-Times group in Nelson, I came into contact with Jack more often when from time to time I was seconded to cover assignments in Barnoldswick.
On one occasion, sitting alongside Jack at Jepp Hill and reporting a meeting of the Urban District Council, members found themselves leglocked on some contentious issue (new tyres for the refuse lorry?) whereupon the chairman addressed the two representatives of the Fourth Estate sitting at the press table - the only members of the public present and neither of us Barnoldswick ratepayers - and asked: “Well, what do you lads think?” Whereupon we added our small contribution to the debate, in words which were not reported in the following Friday’s papers!
I recall being with Jack on a memorable Saturday morning, September 25th, 1965, when, with permission from Bob Lemon, the Earby stationmaster, we shared the footplate of the last passenger train to Barnoldswick, that being one of my final West Craven reporting duties. And if memory serves, was not Jack in the Earby Station signal box on the night of January 31st, 1970, as the final scheduled passenger train from Skipton to Colne was signalled through? There was a rumour it was he who actually operated the block telegraph instrument on that occasion. If true, it would be typical of him.
My career eventually took me away from day-to-day reporting and into sub-editing, administration and training, and we met professionally less often.
But, between 1959 and 1982, when my family home was at Sough, only yards from the home of Jack and Jean, there were frequent opportunities to chat, discuss the state of the nation and current trends in the world of weekly newspapers. We were both of a generation which witnessed massive changes in the technology of newspaper production, and if Jack did not find it easy to be at one with them, well, I can sympathise.
Friendly rivalry there was between Jack and those working for the Nelson-based newspaper titles but Jack Heald ensured there was never animosity at a personal level. He was a gentleman of the press in the truest sense of the word, and it is no mere cliche to say he will be missed.
Happy memories, Jack, and rest in peace.
Walton Lane, Nelson