Charles Slater

North-East po­lit­i­cal giant who mas­ter­minded bid to bring Nis­san cars to Sun­der­land

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - EDITED BY GLO­RIA TESSLER

THE SUN­DER­LAND civic leader Charles Slater, who spent decades fight­ing for the fu­ture of his city, has died aged 88. Charles Slater brought Nis­san cars to Wear­side, cham­pi­oned com­pre­hen­sive education and revamped the city cen­tre dur­ing his 33 years as a driv­ing force in lo­cal pol­i­tics. He also served as Labour Leader of the Coun­cil, Deputy Lieu­tenant of Tyne and Wear and Mayor of Sun­der­land, in ad­di­tion to work­ing as a so­lic­i­tor un­til his late six­ties. Charles was a giant on the north-east po­lit­i­cal scene, hav­ing led the Sun­der­land Coun­cil for three decades, which earned him the soubri­quet “Mr Sun­der­land”.

“Charles gave an enor­mous amount to the city he was so proud of. He will be very sadly missed by a great many peo­ple,” said Sun­der­land Cen­tral

MP Julie El­liott. “Charles was very sup­port­ive of me when I stood for Par­lia­ment, and al­ways gave good ad­vice. He was a man of great wit and in­tel­li­gence, who de­voted much of his life to Sun­der­land.”

For­mer Sun­der­land Echo writer Carol Rober­ton, who worked with Charles on the Wear­side “War for Work” cam­paign in the 1980s, re­called: “Charles felt drawn to pol­i­tics, as he wanted to give some­thing back to so­ci­ety. He was a man who would go not the ex­tra mile but the ex­tra marathon in the cause of Sun­der­land. His huge in­tel­lect and great wit made him a giant of the po­lit­i­cal and le­gal scene.”

De­scribed by the Con­ser­va­tive 0ppo­si­tion leader Peter Wood as a skil­ful politi­cian and ex­cel­lent de­bater, Charles was con­sid­ered the mas­ter­mind be­hind the bid to bring Nis­san to Wear­side — his “proud­est po­lit­i­cal mo­ment” — fight­ing off na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, as well as op­po­si­tion from the left wing of his party. (His death came shortly after Nis­san an­nounced plans for a new ma­jor car in­vest­ment in Sun­der­land, the first post-Brexit, which will build the next Qashquai and X-Trail mod­els, safe­guard­ing thou­sands of jobs.) In 2014, how­ever, Charles — by then bat­tling pro­gres­sive Parkin­son’s Dis­ease — and his wife Sonia took the tough de­ci­sion to leave Sun­der­land for Lon­don to be closer to their chil­dren, Lau­rence and Sharon. “Dad was al­ways loyal to Sun­der­land. The town was in his blood. He took great pride in telling ev­ery­one he met about his time in pol­i­tics and be­ing Mayor of Sun­der­land,” they said. “Even after he moved to Lon­don, he took a great in­ter­est in ev­ery­thing that hap­pened back home. In his lat­ter months his books and mem­o­ra­bilia of Sun­der­land were a great com­fort to him.”

Sun­der­land was in the grip of the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion when Rabbi Charles Co­hen, Charles’s great-grand­fa­ther, fled Lithua­nia for Wear­side in 1888, pen­ni­less and un­able to speak English. But the rabbi re­ceived a loan from Sun­der­land He­brew Board of Guardians and, within a few years, he had founded the Beth Hame­drash Sy­n­a­gogue in Mow­bray Road. His de­scen­dants were to have a huge in­flu­ence on Wear­side pol­i­tics and none more so than Charles Slater.

Charles was born in Gateshead to furniture store man­ager Sid­ney Slater, and his wife Sarah, and the fam­ily moved to Sun­der­land shortly be­fore the out­break of the Sec­ond World War.

He was ed­u­cated at Sun­der­land’s Bede Gram­mar School, and sub­se­quently read Law at Durham Univer­sity. He went on to be­come the man­ag­ing part­ner in a lo­cal firm of so­lic­i­tors, along­side his de­mand­ing po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Charles mar­ried Sonia Clark, a pri­mary school teacher on Novem­ber 6, 1956. He was a stal­wart of the Sun­der­land Jewish com­mu­nity and of the He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion’s Ortho­dox Sy­n­a­gogue in Ry­hope Road. Al­though his po­lit­i­cal fo­cus was con­sis­tently on the big­ger pic­ture of lo­cal gov­ern­ment af­fairs, he still served on the sy­n­a­gogue coun­cil and con­cerned him­self — with a char­ac­ter­is­tic twin­kle in his eye — with parochial, com­mu­nal mat­ters.

For decades, both he and Sonia were out­stand­ing am­bas­sadors for the Jewish com­mu­nity, notably in his year as Mayor of Sun­der­land, when he en­ter­tained United States Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, then pay­ing a visit to the US-owned Pyrex fac­tory. In later years, be­fore his move down south, Charles and Sonia took a prom­i­nent role in in­ter­faith ed­u­ca­tional and com­mu­nity work in the North East, earn­ing re­spect and admiration from re­gional ed­u­ca­tional lead­ers and grass­roots teach­ers.

Sun­der­land’s “Lit­vak” com­mu­nity, which had thrived dur­ing the post-war years and pro­duced many out­stand­ing schol­ars, pro­fes­sion­als and busi­ness­men, would, by the turn of the mil­len­nium, dwin­dle to vir­tu­ally noth­ing, an in­evitable vic­tim to the lure of Lon­don, Manch­ester, the United States and Is­rael. How­ever, Charles and Sonia were among the last to leave, re­luc­tantly tear­ing them­selves away from their beloved Sun­der­land and mov­ing south to Bushey in or­der to be close to their chil­dren. But the city will not for­get Charles’s out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion and un­stint­ing ser­vice he gave it in his life­time.

Sonia pre­de­ceased him six months ago. Charles is sur­vived by Lau­rence and Sharon,and two grand­sons, Daniel and Alexan­der.


Charles Slater: born Jan­uary 29, 1929. Died Fe­bru­ary 25, 2017

Charles Slater with wife Sonia

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