Gary Waller and I were born in 1945 and we both attended the University of Lancaster. We did not meet there however. Gary went there soon after leaving school and was among the first students to enter the newly founded university in 1964. He graduated in 1967 in Politics and International Relations. I graduated in 1973 in Computers and Czechoslovak studies and I didn’t meet Gary until 1974 when I was invited to join a quirky university dining club of which he was a member.
Our lives and careers quickly diverged, the dining club became practically moribund and by the mid 1980s was little more than a nostalgic recollection. By then Gary had been a Member of Parliament for several years and was taking an interest in Information Technology. By contrast, I had continued working for the state telephone monopoly which had been liberalised and then privatised as British Telecom and where I was responsible for relations with British and European government officials.
In 1987 Gary and I met again and he was interested in how the privatised company was doing and who the next chairman would be. The state still held 49% of the company’s shares but competition was not developing as quickly as had been hoped and British Telecom’s quality of service had yet to make the improvements that came later. It was a difficult time for the Conservative government which was planning further big privatisations and had promised investors that it would not use its shareholding to intervene in the affairs of the company. Fortunately, the government kept its promises and the company, now called BT, continued with its radical development programme and its internal reforms.
In 1990, I went to work for the European Commission ostensibly to help develop the emerging EU telecoms policy. In fact, my work focused on explaining EU law and policy to the countries that then wished to join the EU. These included, of course, Czechoslovakia - then still a single country - and it was a source of immense satisfaction to me to renew my earlier interest in Czech and to visit once more the city where I had twice attended the Summer School in Slavonic Studies.
I stayed fifteen years in Brussels and during that time I had no contact whatever with Gary. For me, these years were frantically busy and perpetually interesting and my time was spread among seven countries or more. Nevertheless, I am happy to say that it was the Czech connection that brought Gary and me back together. Unknown to us, our activities had brought each of us into friendly relations with Dr Zdeněk Vaníček - that eminence grise of our sector in the Czech Republic.
By 2006, I had retired from Brussels and was working in Zagreb advising the regulatory authority. I arranged for a delegation of Croatian officials to visit their counterparts in Prague and Dr Vaníček was very helpful in making this happen. He followed this up by inviting me to the CACC conference in Prague the following Spring and, much to my surprise, he had invited Gary Waller too. We were very happy to renew our long neglected friendship while wandering through Vyšehrad where he told me that the old dining club had recently come out of its lengthy coma. Needless to say, the club members from the 1970s had mostly retired and had more time for socialising. I am glad to say that Gary and I met in club dinners twice a year ever since and that he was in fine form when I saw him last on 16th June only five weeks before his untimely demise.
Gary was a man of great charm and impeccable manners who personified a belief that progress in political affairs relies on persuasion much more than on exhortation. He was excellent company and could be relied upon to choose his words with sensitivity and consideration; qualities that made him such a renowned constituency MP and, more recently, an effective and popular town councillor.
Richard Harris, London, 31st July 2017