The text of Sir John Major’s tribute to the Rt Hon The Baroness Blatch CBE, given at St Margaret’s, Westminster in London, on Thursday 20th October 2005.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
Sometimes when friends leave us they fade in the memory. Emily won’t: she will be with us – always – in technicolour.
As a child, Emily Triggs lived with her grandmother in Birkenhead. At 18, she left home to join the Royal Air Force. Ahead of her lay a lifetime of concern for the Armed Services; Education; the vulnerable; charities and so much more. It was a path that led her to be the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council; a senior Minister in Government; and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. The Rt Hon The Baroness Blatch of Hinchingbrooke was never a mere observer of life, always a contributor, and for her work she became a Commander of the British Empire, a Privy Councillor and a Peer of the Realm.
Emily met John Blatch when she was an Air Traffic Controller and he was a pilot: “Wasn’t I lucky?”, she said to me of a marriage that lasted happily for 42 years, “He’s such a good listener”. And with a smile of self-realisation that was pure Emily, she added, “fortunately”.
John was a rock for Emily – in public life and in thousands of private moments. Yes – she was lucky to have him – just as we were lucky to know her.
She was so proud of their children, Andrew, Elizabeth, James – and David, who died when he was only 14. She was besotted with her grandchildren, little Emily and baby Max – even before they were born.
I was with Emily one day in Hinchingbrooke Hospital when James and baby Emily visited. The little girl bustled around like a tiny image of her grandmother, then clambered onto the bed to be cuddled. Her face was full of determination – the bloodline was clear – the world may well hear more of another Emily Blatch.
It is 30 years since Emily became woven into the warp and weft of my life. For me, as for others, she was a friend in good days and bad. When I was selected as a Parliamentary candidate, Emily was there. When I was elected to Parliament, Emily was there. When I became Prime Minister, Emily was there. When I left Office, Emily was there. When Norma and I holidayed on the Nile, or on the Mediterranean, Emily was there. When we saw the sun rise on the new Millennium deep in the Kalahari Desert, Emily was there.
Throughout her life, she was there to help a great many people. Some she barely knew but – if they needed help – Emily was there. And one only has to look around this Church to see that her friendships were enduring.
Emily had an infectious warmth. We have all seen her, a thousand times, enter a room and light it up; smiling, chattering, cajoling, persuading – arguing; bringing people into a conversation, asking – caring – about their families, always widening the circle of those who already knew her to be a truly exceptional woman.
Emily never trimmed or counted the cost – she said what she thought and she lived by what she said. Her friends and her convictions were sacrosanct. Neither would ever be sacrificed. She was always courageous. And never more so than in facing her last great battle. She knew the odds she faced with that malignant disease. Without a shred of self-pity she looked death in the eye – and gave him an almighty fight.
Emily was too human not to have faults. Lovely, she was. Saintly, she wasn’t. If she disapproved of something (or someone), she would burst with outrage – but it was skin-deep and never soured by malice.
And did you ever know her not to have an opinion? Nor did I.
Or, when she did, to keep it to herself? Neither did I.
Did you ever know her to be on time? Absolutely not. Emily would come scurrying to every meeting: breathless, arms full of papers, slightly windswept and late – as usual.
She took on too much. Quite simply, a good cause was like a magnet and Emily was a girl who couldn’t say “No”.
Driving a car was sometimes a challenge too far. Twice, she took out the barrier at her local Waitrose; her mind pre-occupied with some cause. She drove her son’s new car from Cambridge and complained it was sluggish and didn’t smell right. Not surprising really – one of the tyres was on fire.
Sometimes, she listened with only half an ear. I took her son, James, to the Canterbury cricket week, where we lunched with the great Kent and England wicket keeper, Leslie Ames.
James told his Mum all about it – and, later, she shared his enthusiasm with friends. He had met some famous cricketer – she couldn’t remember who – and had lunched at a French Restaurant – called Les Aimes.
Emily left us all too soon. With too much still to do. Too much to live for. But, while she was here, not a moment of her precious time was ever wasted.
Emily may now have gone from our sight, but she will remain in our conversation, in our memories, in our lives today and tomorrow – just as she was yesterday. How can she not? There is too much to forget – and too much we wish to remember – of one of the most vivacious personalities we may ever know.
While she was here, Emily enriched our lives. Now, she has gone ahead of us – to join David, the son she loved and lost – and to learn the truth of life’s last mystery. For Emily believed in her God: may He too have been there to greet her and guide her and guard her.