04 March, 2010

The passing of a giant

SSS was deeply saddened to learn that Michael Foot, Labour party legend, passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 96. It is, as they say, a good innings. His death is hardly unexpected. His beloved wife Jill Craigie died some years ago and the couple had no children. So, who mourns him? I do.

I'm not going to give you a potted history of Mr Foot's life, most of the papers have excellent obituaries and the Beeb have some nice coverage. I don't even have a terribly interesting Michael Foot story. But I'm going to tell it anyway.

You will not be surprised to know that I was something of a militant student nurse. It was difficult not to be, training as a nurse in Thatchers NHS. I was a union steward and was reasonably active in rallying the troupes in the volatile days of the late 80s. There were public meetings, petitions, and marches. Lots of marches.

One such march was organised by the TUC. Thousands of the great unwashed massed at The Embankment to march for the NHS. The union advised us to march in full uniform and we did so, hats, dresses, capes and banners. We were angry. We were loud. We were on fire.

Whilst waiting to start walking I glanced around and spotted an older gentleman with a walking stick. He looked familiar. Suddenly, it dawned on me. "Come on," I shouted at my equally militant and similarly clad friend. "Michael Foot!"

We rushed towards him like excited spaniel puppies. Before the great man knew what had hit him we each grabbed an arm and planted a kiss on his cheek. The look on his face was priceless. We told him we loved him and thanked him for coming. He started laughing, as did everyone standing nearby. I don't think my feet touched the ground for most of the march.

I wonder if he ever remembered the day he was grabbed by two young nurses. I like to think he did. I know I'll never forget it.

Flash forward two decades and I found myself reading about his passing on the internet. Today I stood on the other side of the world and watched a British news item reporting his death with tears streaming down my cheeks. Even in death he was teaching me something. He reminded me that there was a time I cared passionately about something.

RIP, Mr Foot. Thank you for your service to the Labour party and to the country. Thank you for being that rarest of creatures, a decent politician. Thank you for being an inspiration.