BY Steve Reed MP
Ruth Ling was a one-off, wonderful, warm and infuriating in equal measure. I first met Ruth twenty years ago when I moved into Clapham Common ward where she eventually became the longest-serving Clapham councillor in modern times. She came knocking on my door to welcome me, as a Labour party member, to the area. That was the start of a long friendship during which Ruth inspired and supported me to stand for the council.
Ruth loved Clapham and became one of the area’s icons. She was a regular at the annual Clapham fete, events on the Common, and any number of community meetings. She helped get the area’s only secondary school, the Lambeth Academy, opened. Ruth would often appear bleary-eyed after sitting awake late into the night composing detailed replies to the many issues that residents brought to her asking for help.
Ruth spent many years as a senior member of the planning committee. She was rightly proud of the incredible physical changes to Lambeth that have seen the borough’s town centres transformed with new leisure centres and pools in West Norwood, Clapham and Streatham, revamped town centres in Clapham and Brixton, the new Clapham library, and major new developments on the way in Waterloo and Vauxhall. These all stand as a tribute to Ruth’s work.
Ruth’s personal popularity meant that for many years she was the only Labour councillor in an increasingly non-Labour ward, and it’s fair to say she didn’t enjoy working with her fellow Lib Dem ward councillors. In 2010, after sixteen years, demographic changes finally led to Ruth losing her marginal seat in Clapham Common. But she staged a dramatic come-back, returning to the town hall only weeks later after an unexpected by-election in Tulse Hill. Ruth found the move from representing Clapham to Brixton a very happy one. She often told me how generous and warm Brixton people were, and how much she enjoyed working for them.
Having lived for a time in Brazil Ruth was a fluent Portuguese speaker, a talent she made use of to engage Lambeth’s growing number of Portuguese residents. She had also lived in Scotland and loved visiting friends in Edinburgh for the annual festival. For many years, as well as being a councillor, Ruth was also a freelance journalist working for trade magazines covering, amongst other things, the satellite communications industry. She leaves behind her older sister Ellie and Kitty, her younger sister.
During the ten years that I was Labour leader on Lambeth Council Ruth was a rock of support, and always direct in her views. She was the first to march into my office if she felt her constituents were being short-changed, and the first to put a reassuring arm around my shoulder if she knew I was having a tough time. This mixture of bluntness and warmth is one Ruth’s many friends will recognise.
Her loss is a devastating one to everyone who knew Ruth. The landscape looks a little more barren today with her removed from it. Ruth died shortly after suffering a heart attack, unaware that she was at risk from heart disease. This weekend a group of her fellow and former councillors are riding in the London to Brighton bike ride to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. Our team, the Red Riders, are dedicating our ride to Ruth’s memory. Ruth touched many people’s lives in our community, and I hope some of they may feel moved to donate to this great cause to help prevent other lives being cut tragically short. It’s a tribute I hope she’d approve of.
Rest in peace Ruth, a dear friend who made a big difference. You will be very sorely missed by very many people.
Steve Reed is the MP for Croydon North and was leader of Lambeth council for ten years.