Councillor John Ferrett proposes Syd Rapson for Freeman of the City last week at the Annual Council meeting:
“It is a great honour and a privilege to be proposing Syd Rapson today for the city’s highest civic award. Syd has not just been a Labour Party colleague over the years, he has been a mentor and a good friend. There will be many in this hall who will also hold Syd in similar high regard. Indeed, he has played an active part in civic life in this city for over 45 years. As a frazzled councillor of four years standing I feel that period of longevity deserves an award on its own, but there is so much more to Syd’s record of service and the chief executive will read out his biography in due course.
I wanted to say something about Syd the person. He is a man who never appears to be flustered – in public that is! I’m sure Phyllis could tell a different story behind closed doors of Washbrook Road. Furthermore, despite a lifetime of serving the Labour Party and a deep sense of tribal loyalty, he has always been prepared to share his experience and advice with councillors irrespective of their party affiliation. Most of all Syd has always been a fervent advocate and servant for the people of Portsmouth and, in particular for the people of Paulsgrove, the area synonymous with his name. And that willingness to serve was repaid over the years, time and again when people returned him at the ballot box. Furthermore, behind the happy-go-lucky charm there is a steely determination. No-one could survive in politics that long without it, and surviving the internal politics of the Labour Party for 45 years is a monumental achievement.
Syd has of course made his mark in many ways in this city. However, few will be aware of this particular constitutional change.
In 1990 when he was Lord Mayor the only officers in the chamber were the Town Clerk now chief Executive and the city solicitor and his aids. The traditional dress for the chief exec included a wig which he had to wear. I understand the then holder of the office was Richard Trist who I believe is here today. Apparently he hated the wig as it was a constant form of discomfort but the leader didn’t want a change. However, Syd recognised his power within the council chamber and made an executive decision, allowed the wig to be removed and announced the practice would cease forthwith. I understand the decision was never raised again except by Richard who was very grateful. I also suspect our current immaculately coiffured Chief Executive is eternally grateful. Also rumours that I am now the only wig wearer in the chamber are entirely untrue.
Levity aside, Syd has also been behind decisions of real substance not least in working in government to bring naval shipbuilding to our city. He was also instrumental in saving the ferry port from being sold off during his term as Lord Mayor. In the vote on the proposal to sell-off the port Syd used his personal vote as a Paulsgrove councillor to tie the vote and then cast the deciding vote as Lord Mayor to maintain the status quo. That decision has resulted in millions of pounds, year-on-year, being fed back into the city’s coffers and maintaining public services – not bad for a politically neutral Lord Mayor.
Finally, I couldn’t let this moment pass without mentioning Phyllis. Not only has she been at Syd’s side throughout his political career, but she has also held political office in this city and continues to play an active and valuable role in civic life. I’m sure Syd will join me in saying this is a team award and one that they both richly deserve. Fellow councillors I propose Alderman Syd Rapson for the Freedom of the City of Portsmouth.”