Denis Ripley, politician and arts advocate

Denis Ripley
Denis Ripley
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Denis Ripley, who has died at 85, was a former councillor in the West Yorkshire district of Kirklees, who helped support the arts across the county and succeeded in bringing at least one major film star back to the region.

Born in Towngate, Mirfield, and educated at Crowlees Boys’ School and Dewsbury College, he took an engineering apprenticeship before National Service in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers on Gibraltar.

He then went to Rolls Royce at Barnoldswick, making parts for experimental jet engines and the Blue Streak rocket engine, before returning home to Ravensthorpe and the Richardson foundry.

In 1966 he became chief technician at Leeds University’s School of Material Sciences, where he helped PhD students construct the rigs to test their experiments. He was made chairman of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, and a member of the Court and Council, one of the university’s decision-making bodies.

Having served on Mirfield Urban District Council from 1971 to 1974, when local government was re-organised, he won a seat in Dewsbury East in a 1979 by-election, and remained in office until retiring from front-line politics in 2000.

He chaired the council’s education committee from 1987-92 and its cultural and leisure services committee from 1992-99, and stood unsuccessfully as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury in 1983, just as the centre-left split to form the Social Democratic Party. He was chairman of Kirklees Theatre Trust for 11 years and chaired the West Yorkshire grants committee, which was responsible for allocating funding. As vice-chairman of Yorkshire and Humberside Arts, another grant-awarding body, he became involved in setting up the Ilkley Literature Festival, and he was also a board member of Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Ballet and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Through local contacts, he was able to bring the Mirfield-born actor Patrick Stewart back to his home turf to open the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield – an occasion which brought the added benefit of Stewart becoming vice-chancellor of Huddersfield University.

Denis is survived by his partner Jenifer, daughter Karen, son Malcolm, four grandsons and one great-granddaughter.