John Lovell

JOHN Vernon Lovell, a former chief executive of Harrogate Borough Council who was regarded as a hard working and kind man, well liked by his staff, has died aged 77.

His legacy to the town was his handling of the completion of Harrogate's Conference Centre, a controversial project which was already under construction with its many associated problems when he joined the authority.

By then it was well over budget with costs continuing to escalate, infuriating residents who faced council tax increases to pay for them.

Mr Lovell always referred to it as an exceptionally difficult and intractable problem.

He was born in Surrey, the eldest of five children, but spent his childhood in Teddington, Middlesex, and later in Margate, Kent.

He was educated at Chatham House Grammar School where he was regarded as a promising student and a good athlete.

Although unable to go to university he did his National Service before taking an external law degree from London University, and then being articled to the town clerk of Margate when he was 30.

Mr Lovell practised law at Guildford before becoming deputy town clerk at Lowestoft, in Suffolk, for three years.

In 1968, when he was 35, he was appointed town clerk and chief executive at Gravesend, in Kent, where he stayed 10 years before moving to Harrogate Council to be chief executive and director of administration. In 1990 he retired early through ill health.

He had been a Rotarian for 43 years, becoming a prominent member of Harrogate Rotary Club, twice serving as secretary and then as president in 1996/97. He was also secretary of Rotary's Flower Fund Homes Housing Association in the 1990s.

His Rotary work was recognised in 2003 when he was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship for meritorious service.

Mr Lovell, who was recognised as a brilliant administrator during his time at Harrogate Council, also used his skills for the benefit of the local community.

He was president of Harrogate and District Law Society, an independent member on the Borough Council's Standards Committee, an adviser at the Citizens' Advice Bureau, a director of the Harrogate Theatre, and a reader with the local Talking Newspaper for the Blind.

Paying tribute to Mr Lovell, his successor as chief executive Mick Walsh described him as a very able man who related well to his staff.

"His staff were very attached to him and when I succeeded him as chief executive I had a very hard act to follow," he said.

Mr Lovell was also remembered by fellow Rotarian and former colleague Ron Woolley for his sense of humour, something he put to good use at the annual dinner of officers and councillors, which they funded themselves, during which each one did a satirical sketch – all very funny and written by Mr Lovell.

His talent as a good athlete in his youth stood him in good stead during his years at Harrogate where he was a key player in the keenly contested annual officers versus councillors, cricket match.

Mr Lovell is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Katie, three children and four grandchildren.