#DM16: Four of the finest
Members of Honour: Anna Wagstaff, Jim Boumelha, Dave Rotchelle and John Horgan - © paul herrmann
15 April 2016
A drummer turned photographer, foreign correspondent turned press watchdog, anti-Maxwell campaigner turned international press chief and the stalwart of 20 years for the Oxford branch won applause from delegates as they were celebrated as NUJ Members of Honour.
Fellow Oxford branch member, Bill MacKeith, described how Anna Wagstaff had organised and minuted the monthly the meetings of branch members, produced bulletins and remained in constant contact with the Mothers/Fathers of chapel and NUJ reps at BBC Oxford, Oxford Mail and Times and publishers Macmillan, Pearson and Taylor and Francis, while sustaining and encouraging the chapels in recruitment, negotiation stances, training, through direct contacts, leafleting of workplaces, special meetings, socials, and picket line support.
It was she who was responsible for the branch’s high profile at Delegate Meeting and its influence on the policies of the union nationally. Again, it was Anna who took the lead in using digital media to promote the branch and highlighted good practice at DM to encourage other branches.
It wasn’t just her highly developed skills at organising the branch bureaucracy; she was also famous for partying.
Bill quoted Rhonda Riachi, who said: “My impressions were of energy, tenacity and resilience, always looking for another way when the obvious road was blocked. Anna would turn her hand to anything, working long hours to achieve our goals. She would know who could help to fix a problem and find the right way to approach them. She also enjoyed a good party, in the best traditions of the NUJ!”
Freelance organiser John Toner treated delegates to a blast of power pop in his citation of Dave Rotchelle, the former drummer of the Pleasers. A You Tube film shows him wielding his sticks as the band played a cover version of Pete Townshend’s The Kids are Alright.
John said: "I have presented Membership of Honour a number of times over the years, but I’m sure I have not presented it to a member who would be as absolutely delighted as Dave Rotchelle. Dave’s devotion to the NUJ is unsurpassable and his dedication to any role or task that he undertakes has always been 100 per cent."
Dave joined the NUJ in 1998 and his record of activity is almost as long as his record of membership. He served two terms on the national executive council and since 2003 Dave was co-chair or vice-chair of London Freelance Branch; “the biggest branch of the biggest journalists’ union in the world”, as he would enjoy telling those who had just been elected into membership.
John said: “The Pleasers vocalist and bass player, Bo Benham, summed Dave up in this way: ‘Dave Rotchelle is one of the most straight-talking, intelligent, fair-minded, level-headed, giving, secretive, talkative and kindest individuals you could ever wish to meet.’”
Next on the stage was Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley to introduce John Horgan, who blazed a trail at the Irish Times covering the Biafran war and the Second Vatican Council, two global events which captured the Irish imagination.
Seamus said: "John Horgan brought to both assignments an innate curiosity, combined with unique interpersonal skills and political instincts which served him well on travels to Rhodesia, Angola, Cuba and America and in his subsequent careers as a politician, academic, biographer and ombudsman. A constant in that distinguished career has been his unwavering commitment to and membership of the NUJ."
When John became Ireland’s press ombudsman he never forgot his reporting roots. Seamus said: “Remarkably John retained and developed friendships across the industry without compromising the independence of his office. He is a distinguished author and media historian, a prolific writer and a public intellectual of great integrity and an abiding commitment to professional standards.”
Delegates also heard a message of congratulations from the Irish president Michael D Higgins. He said the Member of Honour award is the highest honour the NUJ can bestow on its members and John Horgan was a well-deserved recipient. He said: "John's relentless pursuit of accountability and high professional standards has been one of the pillars on which public trust in the free press of this country is built."
It was Michelle Stanistreet who had the honour of making the citation for Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists. She said: “I’m very pleased to be able to make Jim’s citation. When I became president I paid tribute to Jim as someone I’ve regarded as a great NUJ mentor and friend since getting involved in the NUJ and getting to know him.
“His commitment and service to the NUJ and to international trade unionism and journalism is without parallel. As chair of the Policy Committee he has helped focus not just the NEC but chapels and branches on issues of fundamental human rights.
“His fearless and unflinching championing of minority issues goes back to his earliest days of activity in the NUJ. He has worked unstintingly for the cause of BME journalists for well over three decades, first as a member of the Race Relations Working Party and later as a founding member of the Black Members Council and a trustee of the George Viner Fund.”
Michelle’s only regret was being unable to find a picture of him when he famously dressed up as a banana. “Try as I might, I couldn’t find any photographs of Jim on the trail of Robert Maxwell, dressed in a banana suit to ram home the point that contrary to what had been claimed by the man himself, if Maxwell was a Socialist, then I’m a banana…".
Jim was FoC of the Pergamon Press chapel in Oxford and that is where he met his partner Anna Wagstaff: both will now have to find more space on the mantelshelf to show their His ‘n’ Hers Memberships of Honour.