Obituary: Jonathan Webber MBE DL 24th February 1957 – 15th February 2016

Jonathan Webber 1Jonathan Webber, the former West Midlands Chair (2011 – 2013) and one of the most popular figures among West Midlands Liberal Democrats, has died after a long battle with cancer, which he had described as “something of a nuisance and an inconvenience.” He was 58 years old and died peacefully at home cared for by his partner Kathryn Ball.

Born in Oxford, Jonathan spent most of his working life in a business environment.  Fluent in Greek he spent 17 years working in Athens and Salonika as a literary agent / publisher, whilst there he founded the “Athens Ramblers’ Cricket Club” and the “Thessaloniki Cricket Club”, he became Chief Executive of the British Greek Chamber of Commerce in Athens and returning to the UK in the ‘90s he joined the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) advising on trade with Greece and the Balkans.

More recently Jonathan was Director of International Trade at Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce where he was described as a “real one-off…a maverick.” Former Chamber Chief Executive Jerry Blackett said: “I realised he was never going to respond to traditional management. He was not one for bureaucracy or for rules but he never missed his targets and he got the best out of his team.”

Jonathan helped deliver European Commission-funded private sector capacity-building programmes in some of the most challenged communities in developing economies. He had worked in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, South Sudan, Georgia and Ukraine.

Jonathan Webber 2Jonathan believed that one way to encourage international understanding and co-operation was through trade and the exchange of ideas.  He was able to mix his business and political interests last year when he joined a trade delegation to India led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who said: “It was great to see Jonathan in his professional capacity, helping companies from the West Midlands to find new opportunities to export overseas. Despite the hectic schedule and despite the fact that Jonathan was already seriously ill by that time, he was constantly upbeat and determined to enjoy himself. He was wonderful company. Jonathan dedicated so much of his life to the party and to the values he held dear and we will all feel his loss. He was a true gentleman and my thoughts are with Kathryn, his family and friends – of whom I know he had so many”

A member of the Liberal Democrats since 2003, Jonathan stood for election in Wolverhampton SW several times and was the key figure in turning the region into what Paddy Ashdown described as ‘an efficient business operation.’ For that and his other work for the party, he was given the party’s highest accolade: the Special Recognition Award in 2015. Paddy said: “He let us know in no uncertain manner that the West Midlands intended to be a vital part in defending our seats in 2015 and he used his phenomenal talents and contacts to create a very substantial fighting-fund especially for Solihull and Lorely Burt. But despite his tough tactics, he had inordinate charm and his ready grin always assuaged the inevitable bruised egos. He leaves a very big space to fill.”

Tim Farron said he had made an immeasurable contribution to the region and added: “His advice and counsel to successive leaders, his energy and his optimism, helped sustain the party in the most challenging of circumstances.”

Jonathan was awarded the MBE for services to international trade and development in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2011 and was made a Deputy Lieutenant in the West Midlands in 2014.

He is survived by his children Michael, Daniel, Rania and George, first wife Kleio, second wife Sarah, mother Deirdre, sister Abbie and brother Matthew.

* Kathryn Ball is Chair of Wolverhampton SW and Secretary to the West Midlands Regional Exec but more importantly, Jonathan's partner for 16 mad but wonderful years.

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3 Comments

  • I am very sad to hear this news.

  • Neville Farmer 19th Feb '16 - 7:36pm

    It was a great pleasure to work with Jonathan in the West Midlands. He was always outspoken and decisive. He had great leadership skills and enormous charm and humour. It is desperately sad that we’ve lost him so soon and I will miss him greatly. My fondest wishes to Kathryn, who was a great support to him and the party.

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