BY Jude Robinson
Candy Atherton, former Labour MP for Falmouth and Camborne, tireless campaigner for Cornwall and huge personality died suddenly yesterday, finally losing her battle with the illnesses that she had fought for decades.
Candy came to Cornwall in a blaze of publicity in 1995, winning the selection for the seat of Falmouth and Camborne in the first All Women Shortlist selection in the country. All Women Shortlists were introduced by the Labour Party to address the appalling shortage of women in the House of Commons.
Despite dire warnings about ‘second class female MPs’ Candy soon showed she was a first rate MP and campaigner for Cornwall, tackling Tony Blair about the dire Cornish economy and persuading him that Cornwall should be separated from Devon statistically.
As Candy put it: “The civil servants said, ‘It can’t be done, Prime Minister’, and after I spoke to him Tony said “Yes it can, go and make it happen.”
Without Candy’s intervention, it is unlikely that Cornwall would ever have seen the hundreds of millions of pounds of EU funding invested in Cornwall and although she did not always get the credit she deserved, she was proud to see the results.
Moving to Cornwall in 1995 soon after her selection, Candy made her home here and met her future husband, Cornishman Brod Ross. At times they seemed an unlikely couple: he a former shipwright and photographer who enjoyed the quiet life in Falmouth; she a dynamic former Mayor of Islington and journalist. However, the mix was a success and they married in 2002 at Pendennis Castle in a violent thunderstorm and were a devoted couple. Brod quietly enabled Candy to keep doing all the thing she loved and always travelled with her, he was at her bedside when she died.
After her parliamentary defeat in 2005 Candy continued to work for Cornwall, encouraging a stream of Labour visitors and encouraging women in particular to stand for election.
In 2013, Candy won both a Falmouth Town Council and Cornwall Unitary Council seat in Smithick, Falmouth and spent her time working hard for the town she cared about so passionately. She was the driving force behind many of the town’s popular initiatives, such as taking over the library and One Stop Shop, buying up the old Post Office building and forming a cultural hub with the Art Gallery. She was also a feisty campaigner on health issues at Cornwall Council and vocal in challenging the inadequacies of the latest ‘Transformation Plan’ for Cornwall’s NHS.
Jude Robinson, also a Falmouth councillor, who was Candy’s Election Agent from 1995 and a close friend, said: “Candy was an extraordinary and remarkable woman who achieved so much for Cornwall and for Falmouth. She got a lot of flak for being big, being Labour and being a woman but she never let the hurtful stuff or her severe illness stop her. She was the kindest, most fun friend you could imagine and devoted to her husband and her mother Pam.”