A FORMER MP and council leader has spoken out about the “devastating” death of his wife after nearly 70 years together.

Bob Howarth, aged 92, was leader of Bolton Council for 24 years after representing the Bolton East constituency for six years as an MP.

His wife Josie, a former magistrate and social worker, who has been described as the Boltonian “Jackie Kennedy”, died on Sunday at a hospital in Nottingham.

He said: “I am devastated at the loss of Josie who has been at my side for nearly 70 years. I will miss her deeply.

“Although we had moved to Nottingham to be near family a couple of years ago, our hearts were still very much in Bolton.”

After several years of ill health, Josie was taken to hospital on Sunday when her health deteriorated quickly and she was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Her daughter Sarah, who lives in Nottingham, was allowed to visit the ward despite strict lockdown measures and they spent her final moments together.

Bob and Josie moved to a flat in Nottingham to be nearer to their daughter.

But Sarah revealed that her father moved into the same care home as Josie, who had been struggling with dementia, just one week before his wife died.

She said: “He was struggling in the flat. So he’s still in a care home which is quite difficult for him.

“He’s struggling to cope with it and it doesn’t feel very real to him. But he’s managing.”

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

Sarah added: “He was very active in politics and her mother was a bit uncertain of him. He was a little bit left wing and very into the unions. But she embraced his lifestyle and he embraced hers.”

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

Their son Michael, who now lives in Manchester, said that Josie supported Bob.

He said: “They went through thick and thin. He was an MP for Bolton and lost his seat in 1970. That was a bit of a difficult time for the family.

“Now MPs get some sort of allowance to tide them over but you didn’t then. You fought the election and if you lost, that was that. You stop getting paid entirely.

“So my dad retrained as a further education lecturer in Leigh and my mum retrained as a social worker. She was also a magistrate. She was very active.”

Former Bury and Radcliffe MP Frank White echoed the family’s comments.

He said: “Josie was the rock on which the family was supported during those many years of Bob’s service in London – a time of less generous allowances for MPs – and the family gave wholehearted commitment to the service of Bolton.

“She supported Bob throughout his career in parliament and was his mainstay during his many years of council service.”

A private funeral will be held but only six members of the family will be able to attend due to social distancing measures.

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