DICK Bennett, a leading light in the trade union at Portsmouth Dockyard, has died aged 62 after a short illness.
For almost three decades, he was the dominant force in dockyard industrial relations and was widely respected by both the workforce and managers for his balanced, pragmatic style of leadership in the many disputes he oversaw.
Born Richard Gordon Bennett and raised in Paulsgrove, he joined the yard as a blacksmith apprentice in 1965.
It was at work where he met his wife Jill, a clerical assistant at the workshop, who he married in 1986.
Dick became a trade union representative in 1972 amid worsening relations with bosses over cuts and redundancies.
On his retirement in 2009, he cited the early 1980s for both the highs and the lows of his working life.
He said: ‘All the redundancies of the early 1980s were bad but it also became our finest hour when the Falklands crisis kicked off and we had to get the fleet mobilised. At one point I didn’t go home for four days. We just had to work for as long as we could and then find a corner to sleep in. But we got everything done, we were so proud.’
Dick’s passion for the dockyard saw him take up a full-time role as secretary of the Industrial Trade Unions in 1986.
He was elected committee chairman in his absence in 1997 while he recovered in hospital from an operation.
He later recalled: ‘I knew something was wrong when I saw them all walk through the door looking sheepish.’
A busy next 12 years saw the dockyard workforce transferred from the MoD to the private sector and the return of warship building to Portsmouth in 2003 after a 35-year absence.
A shrinking navy fleet, subsequent reorganisations and redundancy programmes ensured Dick’s workload remained high until his retirement.
Jill retired shortly after Dick in 2009 and they soon went on their first cruise.
They also enjoyed trips to London to see shows and always went to see Status Quo when they played in the south.
His health declined early this year and, although he remained in his usual good spirits while battling a serious illness, he became increasingly weak and passed away on April 18.
Paying tribute, his widow Jill said: ‘He was my gentle giant.’
Friend and union colleague Ken Ferrett said: ‘His influence will continue to be felt in Portsmouth Dockyard. His legacy is the continuation of the pragmatic approach to industrial relations and his massive influence on his successors.’
The funeral will be at Portchester Crematorium on May 11 at 3.30pm.
· Dick Bennett: born May 2, 1949; died April 18, 2012.