Transformational Leadership!  John Malcolm Melling & John Chisholm Cole.



Don’t panic folks! This isn’t going to be too heavy, just some musings after the final send off for a friend committed to the service of others.

A new experience last Thursday! I attended a Quaker memorial service for John Malcolm Melling, a lovely man I’ve known for over 15 years. I was a little apprehensive! All this stuff about sitting in silence until someone feels moved to speak. A meeting starting at 10.30am to be followed by lunch. That’s an awful long time to sit in silence with the prospect of a rumbling tum!

I needn’t have worried. It was one of the best experiences! We sat in calm reflection as one at a time and with reflective pauses in between, several people stood and expressed their thoughts and memories of John. Time passed quickly. We learned more about John and the lunch following was good and an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends, meet new friends and share more stories about John. 

So, about John. I first met him in Stornoway. He was the Chair of the Regional Liberal Democrat Committee for the Highlands & Islands at the time and had come over to visit a friend who had recently moved to the island who’s name was also John.

The other John, John Cole, a committed Liberal and previously a Councillor in the Highlands was keen to activate the Lib Dem members in the islands. We had been invited to a meeting and John Melling had been invited to meet us. Looking back now he was clearly over see see if anything could be made of us  – from the point of view of campaigning.

We had a pleasant evening and looking back on it now it was an evening of transformation for me!

Shortly thereafter I was at a Lib Dem conference, being introduced to other campaigners, being interviewed as a licensed candidate and encouraged to stand for Parliament in the Western Isles! 

Thereafter there were 7 years of campaigning, team development and yes, fun, in the Western Isles. This was followed by further campaigning following my move to the mainland in 2010. 

As a result of that evening I have many friends I would not otherwise have met, of all political parties & none, for which I am truly grateful.

But why transformational leadership you ask? At first glance that evening was nothing special. A couple of already elderly men encouraging others to go out and do a bit of campaigning without much hope of achieving very much.

It was only much later when John Cole, the host that evening, died that I began to understand. His funeral was in Culloden where he had previously been a Councillor. People came from all over the country to say good bye to this quiet man. The minister told his story of service, commitment, & charity work. A conscientious objector in the second world war he demonstrated courage and principles and he was a man of faith throughout his life.

John Melling’s story is similar. A man of principle, a man of conscience. An old fashioned liberal. A kind man. Although in his youth he was a campaigner and candidate, in later life he was an organiser, encourager, team builder and thinker.

His passions were the Quakers, trains, and Liberals and at his memorial people told stories about all but they also spoke of his humour, his encouragement and his support. Over 60 people attended including ex MPs, ex Councillors, Quakers from across the Highlands and many others who had known and respected him.

Both men quietly but conscientiously lived their lives and used their talents quietly to motivate and encourage others. Both had strong faith and strong liberal principles. Looking back I recognise their effect on my life and what I chose to do over the last few years.

Recently I parted company from the Liberal Democrats. I visited John Melling shortly before his death. He was a shell of his former self but to see his eyes light up and his face illuminated by his smile as we talked of old liberals we had known was a joy to see. He knew I had left the Party. He did not condemn me. He accepted the change. 

He was non judgemental. He understood. A true old style liberal. I worry few remain now. I hope I’m wrong but in any event I’m proud to have known and been influenced by these two principled men of faith, both committed to a life of service and in so doing quietly influencing others to at least try to make a difference in this frankly crazy world.

To be remembered for a life of service and principled commitment to causes. There can be no better obituary. 

Sometimes transformational leaders are surprising. It is only when you look back on your life that you recognise people who had a significant effect on your journey. Not high profile, but people who through their commitment and principles lead you to take a direction you might not otherwise have done. 

They are not often overtly recognised (or their contribution may be recognised much later) but if we all remember and reflect we can identify surprising transformational leaders like the two John’s. May they both rest in peace and rise in glory.

I was a pleasure to know and to learn from both.


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John Cole at the Stornoway GE campaign office in 2005

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