Wilf Dillon, 1920 - 2017

We have learnt, with regret, of the death of alumnus Wilf Dillon. Wilf graduated in 1973 with a BA (Hons) Sociology. Wilf served as president of the SU between 1971 - 1972.

My friendship with Wilf spanned more than forty years. I first met him in the 1970s when we were students together at Leicester University. I was in my twenties, and Wilf was in his mid-fifties. As a mature student studying politics, Wilf was the grown-up amongst us, but the age gap didn’t seem to matter. He was one of us, a great friend, and we all looked up to him, sought his opinions and advice, and learnt from him. He treated people as equals no matter who they were. He was the nearest thing we had to a national treasure even then!

Wilf was the youngest of three, born in December 1920 in Wigston Magna. His dad was a wagon-repairer and his mum cleaned the local pub. Despite winning a scholarship to grammar school, he had to leave at fourteen to earn a living, a bright working class lad with few qualifications. He fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to University by studying hard for O and A-levels in only four months, aged 51, and went on to gain a politics degree at Leicester. He was elected President of the Students’ Union in 1971. In recognition of his remarkable achievements and his contribution to student life, Wilf was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the Students’ Union which he richly deserved.

We did our fair share of placard-waving in those days, demonstrating for all the things we believed in, getting on coaches down to London and marching to Trafalgar Square - about everything from student grants, to anti-apartheid, and local demos here in Leicester against the National Front. And Wilf was always leading the way. He loved telling the story about the time he had to organise transport for a student demonstration to London and had the brilliant idea of hiring a train. “We thought we ought to give our train a name” Wilf recalls, “so we called it the ‘Thatcher Basher Flasher’ – Margaret Thatcher was causing havoc as Minister for Education at the time. And I have very strong memories of coming back on that train and standing on Platform 6 at St Pancras and the tannoy man announcing “... and the train now arriving at platform six is the Thatcher Basher Flasher for Leicester”!

Wilf was an internationalist and a socialist who hated privilege, poverty and inequality wherever that might be. He strove, through his own actions, beliefs, principals and politics, to do his best to redress the balance. He was a man of many parts; opera-lover, football fanatic, keen sportsman, rambler, mountaineer, ace quiz compiler and devoted father for daughters Pat and Marcia, who talk fondly about how much fun Wilf was as a dad. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have known Wilf. He was a life-enhancer, and his sprit, energy and dynamism, will go on growing with his memory. Wilf leaves behind a big and loving family - two daughters, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Words by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith.