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Camden News - by RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 4 September 2008

Barry Sullivan - ‘As one grows older you realise that the end of your life approaches at an ever-growing speed... There will always be those to knock you, but their weakness should be your strength’ (April 2004)
Barry – the ultimate unsung hero

Champion of the people passes away peacefully after his short battle with cancer

HIS hair often dyed bright blonde and fingernails occasionally polished, Barry Sullivan did not always conform to a pen-pushing world of forms and files.
But friends coming to terms with his death on Saturday morning, his 60th birthday, remembered this week how he helped hundreds of Camden’s most disadvantaged residents and touched the lives of many more.
His workload at the Camden Town Neighbourhood Advice Centre (CTNAC) often embarrassed elected councillors and officials who were supposed to be helping those in need.
For people on the ground, Mr Sullivan, who had a short battle with cancer, was a genuine unsung hero, a local champion who didn’t always get the recognition his efforts merited.
Scores of residents who didn’t know where to turn were thankful as he guided them through housing tribunals or bureaucratic tussles with the council.
His fellow volunteers pledged this week to try and keep the centre’s work alive in the memory of their energetic talisman.
As Cathy Pound, one of his closest friends and colleagues, said yesterday (Wednesday): “I hope we can all try to aspire to keep Barry’s legacy of always extending the helping hand to those in need and in life generally – his acceptance of people for whoever they were, always seeing the best in people and never judging or turning away those that others may have turned their backs on.”
She added: “Whether you had known Barry for most of your life or only had a brief encounter he made a lasting impression and touched something in us all.”
The Town Hall’s determined drive to evict the CTNAC from its offices in Camden Town remains a source of bitterness.
It led to a 19-day stand-off just before Christmas 2003, known as the ‘Siege of Greenland Road’.
Pensioners joined a sit-in behind makeshift barricades, foiling the bailiffs. Mr Sullivan took to the roof in a final protest which has gone down in local folklore as the day he outsmarted riot police to make his point.
He had been hurt by a smear campaign which had unfolded behind the scenes at the Town Hall, a destructive scandal for which nobody has ever apologised.
Unbowed, he kept up the CTNAC’s work in the nearby home of former mayor Gloria Lazenby.
Ms Lazenby said: “Barry was hounded, lied about and treated abominably by council officers. He died with his anger in tact against the authorities who treated the poor and vulnerable, so badly. Not being a politician, he could not believe the betrayal of those who professed such good intentions.”
Councillor Roger Robinson, who stood up to his own party, pleading with the then Labour leaders of the council to help the CTNAC, added: “Barry Sullivan was a beacon in the darkness that sometimes encompasses Camden. We will all miss him, his endearing work, his love for his community. He was a great guy.”
Mr Sullivan grew up in a children’s home in south London, tracing and briefly making contact with his mother, but never meeting his father.
He went to drama school and worked as an actor and entertainer, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Shirley Bassey and jazz singer Adelaide Hall. He later managed a bar in Camden High Street opposite the nightclub now known as Koko. There, he met Jennie Matthias – better known as Red Jen, from The Belle Stars band.
She said: “Barry gave us somewhere for our first rehearsals and we’ve known each other since. I think he had been through so much injustice that he didn’t want to see anybody else go through the same. At the age of ten, he broke into the children’s home offices to find the files which said who his parents were. He wanted to know who he was. It must have been hard but it led him to devote his life to help others.”
Ms Matthias, who held Mr Sullivan’s hands in his final hours, said: “I already miss him so much.
“He went in peace and with his friends close by.”

* Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalised.

More articles on Barry Sullivan:

John Gulliver 4 September

John Gulliver 11 September


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