A senior Unison official described as a “lifelong servant” of those in need has died after a short struggle with cancer.
Eric Roberts, president of the public service union, died yesterday after having been diagnosed with cancer only this week.
He had worked in the London ambulance service for 42 years before becoming president of Unison this year. He had been union branch secretary and Unison national executive committee member beforehand.
Before joining the ambulance service he worked as an instrument repairer at Liverpool’s legendary Rushworth’s music house, where bands including The Beatles performed. He recalled in an interview for Unison magazine earlier this year his time changing the skins on the drums for The Beatles and the chore of polishing all the brass instruments for orchestras.
He also previously worked as an apprentice baker and confectioner, and spent a summer working in Wales as a wine waiter and boot cleaner, before moving to London. He first of all found work as a trainee assistant manager at Lyons Corner Houses, in the capital, before moving onto Selfridges to sell pots and pans. One day, when leaving the central London shop, he saw an ambulance going past and was inspired to change career.
Eric was born in Litherland, and was a Liverpool supporter and scouser. Earlier this year he said he’d like to emulate the charismatic Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp in his time as president.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, described Eric as a “loyal and true friend” saying that all “our thoughts and and our love are with his family”.
“He had found his calling. For 42 years he served the London Ambulance Service with the passion and dedication for which he became well-known, and his union as branch secretary, NEC member and – this year – our President. He was the first ambulance person to be elected as Unison president – something that I know was a source of immense pride to Eric, his branch, his family and everyone who knew him,” Prentis said.
“Eric wasn’t someone who sought out high office. Ambition wasn’t what drove him. Instead, it was an unstoppable desire – a need – to serve people and help people. To represent them and to do his best for them.
“To Eric, everyone in the union and the ambulance service had a part to play – and every day he did his job to the best of his ability, and brought out the best in others at the same time. His loyalty to this union was as unquestionable and unswerving as his love for its members.”
Eric is survived by his grown-up children Jack and Rhian.
Unison have published an obituary and tribute to their president from Prentis, which you can read here.