Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Eulogy Given At Jeremy Thorpe's Funeral

I attended Jeremy Thorpe's funeral yesterday and was moved by the eulogy given by Steven Atack, a longstanding good friend to Mr Thorpe. Mr Atack has kindly given me permission to publish it. 


Jeremy Thorpe Eulogy – by Steven Atack

I have been asked by Jeremy’s son Rupert, Jeremy’s son to say a few words about the man I have known for forty years first as a political colleague and then as a dear and cherished friend.

My journey on the Thorpe Express, for that is what life with Jeremy was like, began when I was elected National Chairman of his rebellious Young Liberal Movement – as you can see that was some considerable time ago!

Ushered into his office by his loyal Secretary, Judy Young, Jeremy stood up, shook my hand warmly and told me to sit on the day couch he used for his naps. He swivelled round, pen and pad in hand, looked over the spectacles and said “Now Steve, when did your problems first begin??”

And so, charged with his wit and Evangelical zeal for the Liberal cause, away we sped.

For myself, and so many others, Jeremy was a champagne politician, putting the fizz back into the dull grey political era of Harold Wilson and the even greyer period of Ted Heath whom Jeremy once described as “being akin to a large plum pudding around which no one knew how to light the brandy”!  These pearls of wit were a cardinal element of Jeremy's unique style.

Indeed his leadership began with a distinctly champagne theme when the Returning Officer could not find anything to put the ballot papers in for the election for the Liberal Leadership.  A champagne bucket was quickly summoned for the purpose and Jeremy was duly elected.

Jeremy’s campaigning skills were unparalleled and I believe, remain unrivalled. Whether he was leaping with Olympian style over a street barrier or taking over the village post office in North Devon for a week, because the Postmaster hadn’t had a holiday in years, Jeremy knew how to hit the spot.

And the capacity of his memory was Herculean.  I remember once when he was campaigning he met a lady he didn’t know very well, together with her young daughter.  Out it tumbled: “She did very well in Geography, didn’t she Mrs Dawes”.  Jeremy had not only now remembered who the lady was, but had earlier been studying the A level results of children in Barnstaple in the local newspaper and remembered those as well!

In a party down to but six Members of Parliament Jeremy’s optimism was contagious.  One of his first slogans, a pun on the phrase “Where there’s life there’s hope”, he turned into “Where there’s life there’s Thorpe”. And life indeed there was – in spades.

Throughout his political carrier Jeremy worked tirelessly to combat poverty and inequality at home and overseas.  His opposition to discrimination in all it's forms - racial, religious or of sexual minorities, was relentless and he was never fearful of tackling controversial issues head on.

But beyond his passionate commitment to Liberal politics, Jeremy had a happy and deeply loving family life – first in his idyllic marriage with Rupert’s dear mother Caroline, cut short so tragically by her death in a road accident.

Jeremy always remembered Caroline, dedicating a monument to her in his beloved North Devon which he often visited and also a lasting and living memorial in the shape of the Caroline Thorpe Children's Ward in the North Devon Hospital.

And then his second wonderful marriage which was to last over forty years with his wife Marion.  

Jeremy and Marion shared a profound loyalty to one another which endured in the face of all adversity and “in sickness and in health”, as Jeremy valiantly faced down the torment of Parkinson’s Disease for over thirty years.

With Marion, Jeremy also shared his great love of music, continuing that passion from his marriage with Caroline. 

Both were highly gifted musicians; Marion being a world-renowned concert pianist and he a talented violinist.  They counted Benjamin Britten, Yehudi Menuhin and Peter Pears as dear friends.  Indeed Yehudi Menuhin played the violin here in this church at Caroline’s funeral over forty years ago, when a piece especially composed by Ben Britten was also aired.

I think though even Jeremy drew the line when handed a guitar to play by the late Jimmi Hendrix – a close run thing though!

Jeremy was a devoted father to Rupert, whom he adored.  He took particular pride in Rupert’s talent as an internationally respected photographer, in his grandson, Quinn and Rupert’s wife Michelle.. 

He was also a central part of Marion’s family life with her children, David, James and Jeremy and their own children.

Jeremy Thorpe’s life had a richness beyond the difficult days we all know he had to face, and it was with his family that it’s richness was at its zenith, some of the happiest of times being spent with them at his beloved cottage in North Devon.

That family life was profoundly important to him and remained so until his final days, cared for by Rupert, his family and close friends - and a wonderful team of compassionate carers, Naz, Eleanor and Sajil, who are with us today.

In my later visits to an ailing Jeremy he developed a form of communication using hand signals, as his voice was barely audible; the voice, which had held audiences across the Realm in rapture and enthrallment, now almost silent.

I read political pieces to him and one of the last was this, a definition of the Liberalism he held to all his days and I shared in my youth. It is taken from the Annual Report of the Dewsbury Liberal Association in 1923 as they awaited the election of that year.   The words could have been from Jeremy himself…..

“We cannot afford to be idle.

An election may come at any time. Liberalism is not dead. It has a message for today. It believes in Democracy. It believes in a Government of aristocracy, not of birth, of wealth, or of landed or other possessions, but an Aristocracy of intelligence, of energy, of character.

Liberalism is not a compromise between two extremes of opinion. It is a solution of its own for the ills of humanity.  It is not a half way house between Conservatism and Socialism. 

It is not a house at all.  It is a broad road of travel along which may walk honest pilgrims through the confusion of life, not without glimpses, at the end, of the walls and towers of the Celestial City”

I asked him if this was what it was all about and as Jeremy’s eyes moistened, up went the two thumbs, so reminiscent of one of his favourite campaigning postures.

Well my dear Jeremy, it is my hope and my prayer that now, at the end of your journey down your Liberal road, you can see, from a splendid view, those walls and towers of the Celestial City.


May you Rest in Peace old friend and Rise in Glory. Amen.
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