Funeral tribute to Patrick Mayhew


A family reflection

Read by Barney Mayhew at Patrick's funeral on 6th July 2016


Thank you so much for coming... We hope that everyone here will be able to join us all after the service, at Twysden, Kilndown. Please do come along if you can.

My brothers and I have put our memories together to write this talk. We are all so grateful for our father, and we know from many letters that many others are feeling the same.

For us boys, looking back, some of our earliest memories of Dad are not in England, but in Ireland. Long summers spent in County Cork, where it seemed always sunny. Relaxed and happy times fishing for mackerel, lighting fires on the beach, Dad's deep and resonant voice reading Irish stories to us on wet days. Walking up and down hills. Neither of my parents ever saw a wet and windy hill that did not look good to them. Dad’s stories were endlessly funny. He turned everyday occurrences into delightfully uplifting anecdotes. His face was so interesting. If the nose, cheeks and eyes weren’t doing anything then those wonderfully bushy eyebrows were.

Dad began adult life in the Army. National Service took Dad to the 4th/7thRoyal Dragoon Guards, followed by happy years in the reserves. (His father, incidentally, had served throughout the Somme right throughout, which we're remembering at the moment.) Dad loved his regiment, and all his life remained great supporter of the Army as a whole. Despite doing only a year or so as a National Serviceman he somehow managed to give the impression without ever saying so and without intending to I think, of being a distinguished soldier. Years later a General, a full General, looking at the medals on one of our chests, said, "You've got almost as many as your father." In fact Dad had none. The brother concerned chose not to correct the General but to leave Dad's aura intact. His love for his regiment was utterly genuine like another family to him, and it could not have been more fitting that he finally marched off parade, on the 25th June, whilst listening to his Regimental marches 'St Patrick's Day' and 'Fare Thee Well Inniskilling', which we'll hear later on. Tristram had put them on, and I think Dad said well that's the moment to be off.

He read law at Balliol College Oxford. I am sorry to report that his academic endeavour resulted in a Third Class degree, and that he took four years rather than the normally recommended three to achieve that. But it was clear even from this early stage what he was really interested in: politics. The extra year was in fact because he was elected, unopposed, to the presidency of the Oxford Union, where he developed those wonderful speaking skills, combining eloquence, clarity and wit.

He became a barrister. The early signs of his legal career were not promising. His Clerk wrote at the time: "Mayhew is a merry fellow, but he will never make a barrister.” Dad built up a practice despite that and became a QC. He used to say that he was not very gifted so he had to make up for it with hard work. Perhaps he was a bit more gifted than he allowed, we've sometimes thought. 

What motivated him? He was deeply affected by the loss of his adored older brother Jim, who was killed in the Second World War at the age of 21, in Italy at the battle of Monte Camino. Dad once said that achieving for both of them was the only way he could make sense of it all. He felt he should make the most of the opportunities that Jim never had.

He really came into his own once he was able to move properly into politics when he was elected to Parliament for Tunbridge Wells in 1974. He felt it to be the greatest honour to represent, and serve, the people and countryside, and towns and villages, of the Weald of Kent, visiting people at home in the old country way, listening to their stories, sharing his own and seeing how he could help. Time and again, during our childhoods, Dad would be involved in people's battles. Fred Fishenden, for example, was a local character of Kilndown. When he died his family bought a carved open book to mark his grave, similar to other headstones that were already in the graveyard. But rules had changed and permission was refused. Dad didn't try to pull strings: he wouldn't have thought that was right. Instead, he offered to represent the Fishenden family personally in the church court, which held a hearing. He was Attorney General at the time. You can see the open book in Kilndown graveyard today.

He did four jobs as a junior minister: in Employment dealing with Trade Union law and the reforms of that, in the Home Office with the police reforms - taped interviews and that sort of thing, trying to build protections while enabling effective policing and public protection. And then as Solicitor General and Attorney General, which he had mixed feelings about but he was asked to do it and so he did. He wanted to stay in front line politics and that was a move slightly away from that to the legal side. But he gave it his very best endeavours.

And then in 1992 his big chance came, if you can put it like that. John Major asked him to take on the job he'd always wanted which was the role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Jerome remembers the smile on his face when he returned from his visit to 10 Downing Street. He walked in the door and announced, "The top of the morning to you all!” That job was undoubtedly the peak of his career, and he relished the chance to help the various parties to talk to each other, and see if they could reach a lasting peace.

The politics of the 80s and 90s have been written about elsewhere, but as a family we saw:

- The incredible hard work – day after day getting back from work at 11 o'clock and then settling down to reading through two or sometimes three red boxes. It was at this time that we became very familiar with the oft repeated phrase: "If I can just get through the next fortnight…”

- We saw the risks - both our parents were present at the Brighton bombing. Despite the other side of their hotel corridor disappearing, Dad was not woken by the blast. When Mum managed to wake him up he insisted on dressing in suit and tie before emerging from the dust carrying his red box. No being photographed in pyjamas for him. Dad was also on the receiving end of three mortar bombs when sitting in the Gulf War Cabinet in Downing Street. Others may have found themselves under the Cabinet table - stories differ - but not Dad.

- We saw the unwavering commitment that he had to the rule of law. Dad was too discreet to write a memoir, but recent revelations in the de Silva Inquiry give a hint of the work he undertook out of the media spotlight to protect freedoms, and to insist that the law must apply equally to everyone even when it was inconvenient to the government.

- We saw his integrity. On a weekend visit to stay with our parents in Northern Ireland Henry was sitting in a helicopter with Dad juddering over the hilly countryside of Northern Ireland and looking out of the open gun door at the sheep scattering away. Dad was reading through sheets of papers signing each stack and putting it carefully away. Henry asked him what he was doing: Dad replied that he was reviewing the pre-release reports for life sentence prisoners. He was reading and signing them as the final step to allow them to leave prison and return to normal life. Henry asked what the hurry was. After all, they had already served long sentences and many were notorious paramilitaries. He replied that as soon as a prisoner could be released he must be released. That it would be as unjust to delay release by one hour as to hold anyone unjustly for one hour.

- We saw the painstaking building of trust and relationships, laying the foundations, with others, that helped finally to create the peace that so many people had longed for.

- We saw his love for fun. The supermarket trolley race through Kilndown, with one son in the trolley and one underneath. The bailer twine that served as a belt when he was working in the garden. The good stories traded in the Globe and Rainbow.

- And we saw his dependence on God. He would pray every night, he said, for a quick mind and a courageous heart.

He was a minister for 18 years continuously, one of four who were the equal longest-serving ministers since 1832. This was only possible because of the steadfast and loyal support of our mother, Jean. She was enjoying a drinks party in the early 1960s when a completely unknown man bargedinto the group that she was talking to and abruptly, possibly somewhat rudely, asked her out to dinner. She went along out of curiosity and found herself becoming fascinated.

But she's very independent-minded and had no intention, as a student at Cambridge, of hitching her star to a man before she had made her mark on the world. Nevertheless five years later, after she had refused him many times, they married and began a partnership that brings us all here today. They both believed that God had given them gifts which it would be wrong and a shame to waste, Dad in law and politics and Mum in education, community and church ministry, among quite a number of other things. The intensity of Dad’s life was such that for most of their married life she held the whole show together. Dad was able to flourish largely because of her total support. And for that he was hugely grateful.

After he retired, Dad was able to do away with police protection. One day a lady came up to him in Cranbrook and asked, "Do you still have the police looking after you?" "No," he replied, "I'm not worth shooting any more." She leaned closer and said, "Oh, I think you are."

As illness and age began to slow Dad down our relationships with our father began to be enriched in a way that wasn't possible during his time in Government. We talked about the important things. Dad’s faith, which he'd had all his life, gave him the confidence to face death with courage and hope. Jerome asked him, "What do you think about dying?” His response was, "I see it as an exciting adventure.” Near the end, during a scary moment when he had trouble breathing, he told me of a card that friends had sent him in which they had written, "Whatever happens, remember that Jesus is with you every step of the way.” And he looked at me and said: "That's what I think." And to Henry, one night as he was turning in he said the words that we've put on the cover of today's service sheet.

But no one is perfect. He modestly claimed that all he wanted was a simple country funeral. We asked him who we should notify when he died. His immediate response was, "Number Ten, the Chief Whip, the Leader of the House of Lords…”

Dad was a dedicated public servant. He was hugely grateful to God for allowing him to live the life that he did. He faithfully served the memory of his brother, Uncle Jim, and tried his best to live the life that was denied to him. Well done. Well done, good and faithful servant.



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