John Major Tribute for Patrick Mayhew









Paddy Mayhew wasn’t really a politician.  He was a lawyer with a social conscience who strayed into politics.  Once there, he left a significant mark on British public life. 

His ancestor, the social reformer Henry Mayhew, must surely have looked down on him with pride. 

As a Law Officer, and Minister, Paddy made and enforced the law.  His many contributions are part of history.  But I wish to talk of the Paddy I knew:  the man with whom I shared fun and laughter – even in the midst of crises.

Paddy was my first political boss.  Thirty five years ago – as a Minister in the Home Office – he beckoned me into a corner of the voting lobby in the Commons and invited me to become his PPS.  We were standing very close together to avoid being overheard, when he noticed my sudden wince of pain.

He was immediately solicitous:  “What’s wrong?  Are you ill?  Is there anything I can do?”.

“Just one thing, Paddy” I said.  “You’re standing on my foot!” 

Paddy had empathy.  He read people and events very well.  He dealt in facts, not hyperbole.  In troubled times he was buoyant.  In adversity he was brave.  He was a pragmatist with principles:  he believed that government “was founded on compromise and barter.” 

Sometimes, one was reminded that Paddy was patrician Irish.  At a dinner in Number 10, he turned up in a dinner jacket, the wrong trousers and what looked like carpet slippers:  his clothes, he said, “had gone walkabout”.

Was he embarrassed?  Not at all – he carried it off with such aplomb that I felt positively over-dressed. 

Paddy had his eccentricities.  Ever the Guardsman, he often prepared for Press Conferences by polishing his shoes.  More conventional colleagues merely read the brief.

And he loved ice cream:  “It reminds me” – as he once told me in a Belfast bun shop – “which teeth are still my own”.

But even Paddy had one flaw:  he was a truly rotten driver.  One terrified passenger – a survivor – reported that being driven by Paddy – was more dangerous than being on the front line in Bosnia.

Paddy was a man of passions – as all good Irishmen should be.  And, apart from his family, his were hunting, prison reform … and Ireland. 

I thought he was a most perfect Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – often reeling in troublesome politicians much as a skilled fisherman plays with an especially juicy trout. 

But, faced with adversity, Paddy was steadfast.  He knew what peace meant, and that compromises must be made to achieve it.

One snowy morning in 1991 the IRA mortared No 10 in the middle of a meeting.  The building shook, the windows caved in – and we all took shelter downstairs. 

When Paddy returned to the Cabinet Room to collect his red box, he found anxious cleaners clearing up the mess.  As he reassured them no Minister had been harmed, it became clear their anxiety lay elsewhere:  “We’ve been so worried,” said one, “those poor horses on Horse Guards.  Are they alright?”.

When two little boys –Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball – were murdered by an IRA bomb in Warrington, popular opinion clamoured to close down the Peace Process.  But Paddy was resolute.  He knew that, if we gave way to such pressure, many more children might meet the same tragic fate.  

And, when uproar broke out – following an ill-intentioned leak that we had an unacknowledged “back channel” link to Sinn Fein – Paddy faced the Commons, believing his Ministerial career could end that afternoon. 

It didn’t.  Members – from all sides of the House – recognised Paddy for everything he stood for, everything he was trying to achieve, and gave him their full support.  It was Parliament at its best – acknowledging one of its very best.

There was nothing glib about Paddy.  He never traded in cheap praise or frivolous denunciations.  When he made a judgement it was considered;  examined;  held up to the light;  weighed against fairness, the law and his own conscience.  Only the very foolish ignored it.  It was like working alongside Sir Thomas More. 

But Paddy had one great advantage over Sir Thomas.  He had a virtual co-Secretary of State.  There are many unsung heroes of the Peace Process, and Jean Mayhew is most definitely one of them. 

In Northern Ireland – as throughout their 53 years together – Paddy and Jean were a true double act, for Jean’s role – particularly in community work in Northern Ireland – was invaluable, and carried out with no wish for any wider recognition or personal publicity. 

Jean – Paddy was so proud of all you did. 

Paddy may have gone from our sight, but he has left behind a lasting legacy:  of substance in his public life;  of affection among his friends;  and – to him, most important of all – a living legacy in Barney, Henry, Tristram, Jerome and his eleven grandchildren.

Kind and generous to the core – with infinite wisdom and good humour – Paddy represented public life at its best.  He was a big man – with a big heart.  I am proud to have known him;  proud to have worked alongside him;  and proudest – above all – to have called him my friend.

Let me close with some words from a poem written on the death of Alfred Mynn – a great Kent and England cricketer – in whose house in Twysden Paddy and Jean brought up their family.  It is now Barney’s home.  

Every word of the last stanza applies equally to Paddy:


With his tall and stately presence, with his nobly moulded form,

His broad hand was ever open, his brave heart was ever warm;

All were proud of him, all loved him.  As the changing seasons pass,

As our champion lies a-sleeping underneath the Kentish grass,

Proudly, sadly we will name him – to forget him were a sin.

Lightly lie the turf upon thee, kind and manly Alfred Mynn.


Let it lie equally lightly on you, dear Paddy:  broad of hand, brave of heart, and kind and manly to the very end.

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