Former leader of the Labour party Lord Kinnock has led tributes to Tunji Fahm, the first black lawyer to be appointed as a chief officer of a local authority legal department, who has died aged 88.
Mr Fahm, who lived in Blackwood, who received an MBE for services to the community in Wales in 2006, was born in Nigeria and arrived in the UK in 1954 to study law in Cardiff.
He was called to the Bar (Lincoln’s Inn) in November 1967. He was appointed chief officer of the legal department at Islwyn Borough Council in 1974 and then became the council’s chief monitoring officer in 1978.
During his full life he was all set to appear on Mastermind with his specialist subject being the former US president Harry S Truman, but major heart surgery meant he was unable to.
Lord Kinnock, who was an MP from 1970 to 1995, first for Bedwellty and then for Islwyn, said: “Tunji was a dedicated servant of the community and broke through barriers of convention – and some prejudice – to put his expertise, his ebullient character, and his enlightened convictions to work for the public.
“To me and many others, he exuded merriment and wisdom and he will be greatly missed by his friends and his beloved family to whom I send my deepest sympathy.”
Lord Touhig, former editor of the Free Press of Monmouthshire, former Gwent county councillor and former MP for Islwyn, also paid tribute to Mr Fahm.
He said: “Tunji was the sort of person who, if there was a problem he would try to help solve it. He was a great human being. He was a very kind, gentle man. He was always willing to listen and to help.”
Mr Fahm, who gained a Master’s from the London School of Economics, stood as a Labour candidate for the Welsh Assembly in 2003 and 2007. In 2009 he was granted Freedom of the City of London (in Islwyn, a category reserved for residents of Wales) and was founder and convenor of the Joint Committee for Ethnic Minorities in Wales.
His daughter Tina Fham said her father died on September 1, 2021, at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, after a short illness.
She said her father was a “a great humanist – determined to use his skills and expertise to help others.”
She said: “Dad was a lawyer through and through, and an avowed anti-fascist – anything concerning access to justice was of interest to him.
“He retired in 1996 following local government reorganisation and set up his own practice, Fahm & Co, where he provided extensive pro bono legal support.
“He was keen follower of sports – Formula One, boxing, golf. He was also an avid reader and was an expert on the life of former US president Harry S Truman. He was cleared to appear on Mastermind with his specialist subject on Truman before a major heart operation made it impossible for him to proceed.
“Dad loved politics and was a life-long member of the Labour Party.”
Also paying tribute was Michael Gray, the last mayor of Islwyn, who said: “I first met Tunji when I became a borough councillor in 1985. He immediately welcomed me as a young inexperianced councillor.
“In 1995, I was elected as the last mayor of Islwyn Borough Council, and also nominated as a Freeman of The City of London. Mr Fahm’s professional advice, and guidance to me personally during that time was very much appreciated.
“Not only did he serve Islwyn Borough Council, but also the wider community benefitted from his wide experience as a barrister. He was always approachable, and helpful to individuals and organisations, with the problems that they had. His humour always put people at ease.
“After local government re-organisation, an association was set up for past mayors, and was known as The Freeman of The City of London in Islwyn Association. Mr Fahm, was nominated to become a Freeman of The City of London in 2009. He was Installed as a Freeman, by the Chamberlain of The City of London, at The Guild Hall, City of London, in July 2009. He was a much valued member and supporter of the association. Because of ill health in recent years, Tunji was unable to attend meetings but his daughter Tina, represented him.”
Mr Fahm is survived by three of his four children Tina, Yinka and David and his grand daughters Katherine and Tolu. His wife Viola and son Kayode predeceased him.
He will be buried on October 8, 2021, in Lagos, Nigeria and a celebration of his life will take place next year in Newport.
Ms Fahm said: “The family are grateful to the people of Wales for the opportunities and kindness that enabled him to flourish.”