Family Tribute to Patrick Mayhew




Tribute to Patrick Mayhew

read by Barney Mayhew on behalf of the family

at the Thanksgiving Service at St Margaret’s Westminster on Thursday 2nd March 2017


Thank you so much for coming.  It is wonderful to give thanks for my father, here together with all of you.  We hope you’ll be able to join us for a drink after the service, in the QE2 Centre just across the road.

Two different streams flowed into my father’s life, creating a rich mixture.  His Irish mother gave him a love of Ireland, of poetry and song, of wild country, witty conversation and laughter, literature, and wonderful characters.  His English father, very twinkly-eyed but sobered by serving in the trenches, gave Dad steadiness and kindness, and he gave him a model of public service, a certain caution, and thoroughness.

Dad met my mother when he was 28 and she was 18, and he proposed just 6 weeks later.  She turned him down because she thought that showed such poor judgement.  Hasty it may have been, but his judgement was spot on.  Five years later he was thrilled to marry Mum, and blessed beyond measure by her love, her loyalty, her sense of fun, her teamwork with him, and her care for him throughout 53 years.

Many people are either considerate and steady, or a lot of fun. Dad was both.  He was utterly trustworthy, and a teller of hilarious stories.  He was resolute – as well as joyous.  He was an unusual combination of strength of purpose and the natural light-heartedness of a person full of joy in life. 

And it was in politics that he found the perfect expression of the two sides of his character. He strongly believed in serving his constituents, and the country, to the best of his ability.  It didn’t always go according to plan.  As a new MP he attended what he feared was going to be a difficult constituency meeting.  It went better than expected allowing him to leave early.  In the pitch dark, while looking for his car, he fell chest deep into a water-filled ditch.  Each time he tried to climb out the headlights of another departing car swept past his position, forcing him to duck back down into the mud to avoid being spotted.  When he got home Mum opened the door to a bedraggled democrat.  He stood there and said, “I told you it was going to be tough.”

He loved the floor of the House of Commons, sensing the mood of the House and judging how best to steer a difficult proposal through. He had great faith in the combined wisdom of the electorate.  His commitment was total through 18 years of government.  His attention to detail was painstaking.  And yet he also loved the advocacy.  He was a performer who worked enormously hard on speeches, working and reworking phrases, perfecting metre, resonance and timing.

But he was not always successful in carrying his political point.  During his courtship of my mother, when they’d had a sharp political disagreement, he was reduced to saying, “But I’m asking you to marry me, not to vote for me.”

Dad had always wanted the job of Northern Ireland Secretary.  When offered it he said two things to the Prime Minister: first, “Thank you” and then, “Whoopee!”.  At the time there weren’t many other politicians who would have said either.  There were, of course, lots of difficult times.  He prayed every night for a quick mind and a courageous heart.  He was thrilled when, after his time, peace eventually came to Northern Ireland.

At home he was relaxed and delightfully welcoming.  He loved dressing up at family parties, he enjoyed dancing, he sang songs, Waltzing Matilda was a favourite, and he recited poems that he’d learned by heart in childhood.  He was immaculately turned out for work, but colleagues might have been surprised to see him on summer weekends lying on his back, floating down the local muddy stream in his underpants.

Though he slowed down in retirement his humour stayed with him right to the end.  When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s he told people: “I used to be a mover, now I’m looking forward to being a shaker.”

Because of his strong faith he was completely unworried by the prospect of dying.  Near the end the birds outside his open French windows seemed to put on an unusually joyful display.  And then one day a robin flew in and sat on his chest, as if to say, it’s time.  We think of him now, in new life.  Along with many others we loved him very much and we thank God for him.

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