And so we remembered Shirley Williams

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Memorial Service for Shirley Williams in Westminster Cathedral yesterday.

I should point that I really did mean Westminster Cathedral, not Westminster Abbey. The Cathedral is the mother church of Roman Catholics in England and Wales and is located near to Victoria Station.

I arrived early, and as I hadn’t visited it before took the opportunity to look around. It is a large, handsome building with extensive use of decorative brickwork, typical of the late Victorian period when it was designed. The inside is lined with a series of chapels dedicated to various saints, and the ceilings of almost all of them incorporated stunning gold mosaics. The ceiling in the chapel dedicated to the fisherman, St Andrew, shimmered with fish scales.

The seats started to fill up with the great and the good of the party and beyond –  mainly peers, because the MPs were still debating the Queen’s Speech – plus a smattering of other Lib Dem campaigners from across the country.

It was good to see the two remaining members of the Gang of Four – Bill Rodgers and David Owen – as well as David Steel who brokered the Alliance between the SDP and the Liberals.

I also spotted John Bercow, and, rather surprisingly, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

We were welcomed by the Archbishop of Westminster who introduced the two tributes. The first was from the 93 year old Bill Rodgers, now Lord Rodgers of Quarrybank, who appeared rather frail until he started speaking with a firm voice and clear memories of Shirley Williams’ illustrious political career, beginning as the first female Chair of Oxford University Labour Club. Later the writer Mark Bostridge described the relationship between Shirley and her equally famous mother, Vera Brittain.

Afterwards we were all invited to drinks and we reminisced on our memories of Shirley Williams. I owe her quite a debt. About 25 years ago I was invited as Mayoress to a local women’s business lunch where she was the guest speaker. I spent quite a while chatting with her about the challenges for women like me who were catching up on their professional careers after a child break (we really had no option but to take one when my children were born) yet wanting to be actively involved in politics. She said “Just do it”.

So the very next day I applied for approval as a Council candidate. As it happens, my husband’s ward colleague had to resign unexpectedly because of ill health and I was elected in a by-election just six months after that meeting.

I know that many women can tell a similar story of her personal encouragement. Like them I have tried to pay it forward by encouraging and mentoring other women as candidates. That is an unseen but very real part of Shirley Williams’ legacy.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Barry Lofty 11th May '22 - 4:03pm

    I had an awful lot of respect for Shirley Williams and she is greatly missed!

  • I think the government of the day is sort of required (unspoken, etiquette) to send a ‘representative’ to the funerals and memorials of significant politicians. JRM presumably drew the short straw.
    Like you , I’m glad to hear that Bill R and David O were there. And the other David too. Shirley was a very significant figure in our party. If she had managed to hold her seat in 1983 she’d have become SDP leader, and…. Well I don’t really like hypotheticals, but I do wonder sometimes.

  • Andy Boddington 12th May '22 - 9:01am

    @TonyH You are off the mark with your comment on Jacob Rees Mogg. Shirley Williams was his brother’s godmother.

  • @Andy Boddington – thanks for that link which I hadn’t seen before, in which Jacob Rees-Mogg gives a kindly and amusing tribute to Shirley Williams. I would have worded the post differently had I known that there was a family/friendship connection between them.
    However I must say that he didn’t look entirely comfortable surrounded by dozens of Lib Dem peers.

  • Ah ok @AndyB. Happy to stand corrected.

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