A FORMER magistrate and social worker who has been described as Bolton’s “Jackie Kennedy” has died aged 90.

Josie Howarth, wife of ex-MP and Bolton Council leader of 25 years Bob Howarth, died on Sunday following several years of ill health.

She was taken to a hospital in Nottingham where the couple had recently moved.

Their daughter Sarah was allowed to visit the ward despite strict lockdown measures and they spent her final moments together.

Sarah said that both of her parents were dedicated to public service.

She said: “She was very supportive to my dad in his role as MP and council leader. But she was also a person in her own right. She was a social worker, she was a mum. She was very active in her local community. She wasn’t just my dad’s wife.

“She worked for Barnardo’s for a long time. She was a very caring figure and a loving mother who was greatly loved.

“She did have struggles throughout her life with mental health issues. She’d be poorly and then she’d be well again. She was always quite open about that.

“She struggled with dementia. But she died peacefully.”

Josie’s son Michael, who now lives in Manchester, said that his mother’s death has come as a shock to the family after her health swiftly deterioriated.

He said: “She’s been in bad health for quite a time, probably four of five years.  She was in a home but she’s only been there about a year.

“They took her to hospital on Sunday. They took her to a coronavirus ward because they had to be cautious – she was 90 years old – but it wasn’t coronavirus in the end. It was pneumonia.

“She obviously was going downhill quickly. But it was a surprise on Sunday. She just suddenly deteriorated. But it was pneumonia which gets everybody in the end.”

Josie, who was born to an Irish family from Leigh, met Bob at the Palais De Danse in the late 1940s.

The couple, who were married for more than 65 years, lived in Kinloch Drive before moving to a house in Markland Hill.

Former Bury and Radcliffe MP Frank White got to know Josie through working with her husband at the De Havilland Aircraft Company in Horwich.

Mr White helped Bob in his 1959 parliamentary by-election campaign and sat alongisde him on the Labour benches as a councillor in Bolton.

He said: “Josie and Bob radiated the spirit of a Boltonian Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy. They were an ideal couple to represent the people of Bolton.

“Josie demonstrated a personal commitment to our town by her many years of service as a magistrate where she gained much respect for her firm but fair attitude in dealing with offenders.

“Bolton is a better place for her having been part of the life of our town.”

Bolton’s Labour group leader Linda Thomas said Josie was known to many councillors while her husband served as council leader between 1980 and 2004.

She said: “Josie was well liked and highly regarded. She was a great support to Bob and was frequently seen at council civic functions. She also contributed to public life as a magistrate.

“We send our condolences to Bob and to Josie’s family.”

Conservative councillor John Walsh said he first met Josie 40 years ago but got to know her particularly well when he served as Mayor of Bolton in 2002.

He said: “She was always a very friendly person. There was no issue of politics getting in the way of our conversations. She was never deeply into politics as Bob but took an interest in the subject.”

Lib Dem leader Roger Hayes got to know Josie when her husband was leader of the council.

He said: “She was a kind and thoughtful person who must have been a considerable support to Bob in his work. She will be missed.”

A private funeral will be held in Nottingham which only six members of her family will be able to attend due to social distancing measures.

But Sarah said the family intends for a celebration of her life to be held in Bolton where her ashes will be brought at a later date.

She added: “That’s where their heart was. Their heart was always in Bolton.”