Below is the statement put out by the Press Association at 7.30 this morning, on the death of our great friend Tessa Jowell, surely the kindest and most empathetic politician any of us have had the good fortune to know. It is not just that she achieved so much, as detailed by her Parliamentary colleagues in their tributes, but that she did so with such compassion and decency, such optimism and love. Every minute of every working day, Tessa was motivated by, and dedicated to, the service of others. She really was the best of politics, and the best of humanity.
It is cruel beyond belief that almost exactly one year after suddenly being taken ill while in the back of a cab, she has gone, leaving behind her wonderful family. David’s loving care, and that of their children Jessie and Matthew, was inspirational.
Tessa fought the illness as she lived her life, with determination and courage, selflessly, always with a mind to how she could use her experience to help others. I can think of few other Parliamentarians who would have had the tributes she had, while still with us, in both Houses, when she spoke in a debate inspired by her battle with brain cancer in the Lords, and later attended a similar debate in the Commons. Tessa inspired so much warmth and compassion in others, across the political divide.
One of the most important judgements for me, about friends of our generation, is what my children think of them. Tessa has been a huge part of our children’s lives, and they loved her as though she were family. Our daughter Grace was in bits last night, but through the tears she said this: ‘I have never known anyone else like her, who could make absolutely everyone she met feel happy to be where they were at that moment.’
Fiona and I last saw her, with Charlie Falconer and his wife Marianna, when we went for dinner with David and Tessa on Wednesday. It was clear that she was declining, with her speech and orientation becoming more and more challenging. It was truly heartbreaking to see such a life force moving towards what our friend Philip Gould called ‘the death zone.’
But even today, just hours after she died, the overwhelming thoughts and memories about Tessa are all positive and life-affirming.
This Friday, we were due to go to a concert in Edinburgh, of the Scottish traditional music band, Skipinnish. This last New Year, we were in the Highlands together and heard the band live. Tessa was not well though, and stayed in bed. But David loved their music, and virtually every day since, they have listened to it together. So if I am allowed just one memory of Tessa, it is of her singing along to Skipinnish. One song in particular will now forever be associated in my mind with Tessa. It is called ALIVE. Here it is.
She may be dead now. But I will always think of Tessa when I hear ‘Alive.’ Because that is exactly how she made everyone else feel. It’s why we loved her, and will miss her, so much.
STATEMENT MADE BY A SPOKESMAN ON BEHALF OF THE FAMILY OF BARONESS TESSA JOWELL DBE
It is with great sadness, and an enormous sense of loss, that we announce the death of Tessa Jowell.
She died peacefully at the family home near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire last night, shortly after 10pm. Her husband David and their children Jessie and Matthew were by her side, with Jessie’s husband Finn, Matthew’s wife Ella, and David’s children from his first marriage.
Tessa, who was 70, was diagnosed with a gliobastoma multiforme brain tumour in May last year, suffered a haemorrhage on Friday, and had been in a coma since then.
In addition to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, in recent months doctors tried innovative new treatments which Tessa gladly embraced, but sadly the tumour recently progressed very quickly.
We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to all of the doctors, nurses and other medical staff who treated Tessa and looked after her throughout her illness, including the expert palliative care she has received in the past few days from Shipston Home Nursing, the local Hospice At Home.
There will be a small private funeral in the coming days, and a memorial service open to all at a later date.
The family would like to thank people for the overwhelming support Tessa and they have received since she became ill. They have been touched and moved by the response, in both Houses of Parliament; from members of the public; and other cancer patients and their families around the world.
Tony Blair, in whose Cabinet Tessa served, said: ‘Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known. She was an inspiration to work with, and a joy to be near. She was the most wise of counsellors, the most loyal and supportive of colleagues, and the best of friends.
‘What she achieved was remarkable. She was the first senior politician fully to understand the importance of public health and to shift health policy towards prevention of illness and not only cure. She was the instigator of Sure Start and in the process gave hope and opportunity to hundreds of thousands of children. She brought the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics to London, and ensured their success. Whatever task she was set she gave her all, touching hearts and minds with her gentle compassion and sympathy.
‘There was no one like Tessa and no one better. I will miss her more than I can say. My thoughts and prayers, and those of Cherie and all the family, are with David and her wonderful family of whom she was justly very proud.’
Lord David Blunkettsaid: ‘Tessa was one of my closest friends for over 40 years. In 1980s local government, Tessa in Camden and myself in Sheffield, we helped to promote an alternative to Old Labour on the one hand and the far left on the other. Before the 1997 Labour victory, we worked on a programme to nurture children from the moment of their birth, but crucially also to work with parents and the wider community to transform the lives of those otherwise caught in intergenerational disadvantage.
‘She was the first Public Health Minister with the responsibility to take on long-term preventive change. Tessa and I worked together to implement that Sure Start programme, which led to the creation of 3,500 children’s centres across the country. Later, when Tessa was Employment Minister, we revived the Equal Opportunities Commission and started the drive to narrow the Equal Pay Gap.
‘But, alongside the triumph of helping to win the Olympic Games for London, it will be Tessa as a person who I will remember. There when people needed her, both personally and also with her political hat on, and with her bravery over the last year, always thinking of others. Her networking skills, which I used to tease her about as she was always on the phone, were used to enormous effect for good, in promoting international collaboration and sharing research and best practice in the treatment of brain tumours and, with her family, turning personal tragedy into the possibility of hope for those facing a similar challenge in the future. That is the person I will miss so much, and will always remember.’
Lord Sebastian Coe, President of the IAAF and former chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, said: ‘Tessa was not just a close friend, she was a life enhancer. She was always there for her friends, through thick and thin, and when it was the latter, there was nobody you would rather have in your corner. Her contribution to the Olympic and Paralympic Games is easily defined – quite simply, without Tessa there would have been no London 2012, and without Tessa they would not have been the success they were. No politician deserves greater credit for the Games. She showed unflinching tenacity in persuading the Prime Minister and the Cabinet that the government should throw its full weight behind the bid. And long after the Games were over, Tessa continued to fight for their legacy. Without her the sporting landscape of the UK would have looked very different, and so many other tangible legacies left dormant. I will miss her enormously.’
Harriet Harman, MP for Tessa’s neighbouring constituency of Peckham, said: ‘The personal is political – that old women’s movement saying – was what Tessa was all about. Her focus on her children and step children was the impetus for her putting parenting support at the heart of Sure Start Children’s Centres. Her way of judging eldercare services where she worked in Birmingham was simple – “Either it’s good enough for my mother or it’s not good enough for anyone”. She nurtured personal relationships to build support for projects she wanted to see happen – like the Olympics. Her politics was personal – supporting colleagues with a sick child or a dying parent. And because everything she said or did was intertwined with the personal, she was more effective. She didn’t follow the political rules of the day. She followed her personal instinct. But she was no softie. She was clever and tough.
‘Tessa was my MP neighbour for 23 years, always courteous and polite with local agencies, hospitals and schools. But if they were misleading, uncaring or obfuscating she would be tougher than anyone – and forensic with it. She was a champion of local councils (as a former Camden councillor and chair of the Social Services Committee of the Association of Metropolitan Councils) and community organisations. But above all she wanted to see Labour in government, and when we were she took her unique style and deep personal commitment into the heart of Whitehall. When people remember the big figures in Labour from 1997-2010, Tessa will be one of them.’
John Bercow, House of Commons Speaker, said: ‘Tessa was an indefatigable campaigner who translated care from a word to a deed at every turn. Through her focus on Early Years provision, Tessa did more than most to improve lives and promote social justice. Passionate, warm and empathetic, she saw the best in everyone and won respect and affection across the political spectrum.’
Helen Hayes MP, who succeeded Tessa as the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said: ‘Tessa served Dulwich and West Norwood for 23 years with a commitment to making a difference every single day. Her legacy is extraordinary, from five brilliant new schools, to Sure Start centres, the turnaround of King’s College Hospital and her support for countless community groups. Tessa is much-loved across the constituency, for the things she delivered but perhaps even more for her deep empathy and compassion, and the way that she worked collaboratively to empower others. Life is now better and fairer in our part of South London because Tessa put people first. I hope
Tessa’s family take great comfort from knowing just how many lives she touched here. Tessa’s remarkable refrain these past few months has been “I am so lucky”. We are the lucky ones, to have known her and witnessed her at work for the common good.’
Lisa Nandy MP, formerly Tessa’s PPS and mentee, said: ‘As a new MP arriving at Westminster in 2010 I could not have wished for a wiser, kinder or more experienced mentor than Tessa. As her PPS on Labour’s Olympics team I saw her operate at the highest levels and get things done with huge professionalism and genuine warmth. No matter what the pressures, she always maintained her dignity, sanity, decency and wicked sense of humour, and she was unbelievably effective. When she wanted to achieve something, I never saw her fail. She blazed a trail that helped others to follow.
‘Tessa always said we needed a new politics in this country. She completely exemplified what that should look like. Despite coming from different traditions in the Labour Party, it was typical of Tessa’s generosity and belief in politics that she reached out to me and was completely supportive even when we disagreed. For so many women and men of my generation, at all levels in every party, she has shown us a better way of doing politics and we will never forget it.’
Councillor Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, said: ‘Tessa has been at the forefront of politics with all the pressure that comes with that, but she never lost a single ounce of her compassion and kindness. Her optimism and courage have always been a massive inspiration, to me and many others of my generation. She’s shone a bright light over local and national politics and many young women have followed in the path she lit for us. She provedthat it is possible to do politics and always be positive, always constructive, always hopeful.’
Sarah Lindsell, CEO of the Brain Tumour Charity, said: ‘Tessa Jowell’s courage and honesty in speaking about her brain tumour diagnosis, coupled with her fierce determination to improve the lives of others affected by the disease, has already brought hope to an often-forgotten community of patient and families As at so many times in her life, she has been an extraordinary driving force for change.Her passionate support for more flexible clinical trials for brain tumour patients, and for global data-sharing to improve understanding of the disease, will have a real and lasting impact in our quest for a cure.’
Tessa Jowell – major landmarks in her political career
- Prior to Parliament: Social care worker in Brixton, Director of mental health charity MIND, councillor in Camden
- Elected as MP for Dulwich & West Norwood in 1992
- Appointed the first ever UK Public Health minister in 1997
- Created Sure Start with David Blunkett, then Education Secretary, in 1999. In Tessa’s own words, creating Sure Start was her “proudest achievement”
- Became Secretary of State for Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2001. Notably introduced ‘Communications Act’ establishing regulator OFCOM.
- Secured support in the Cabinet, and won cross-party support in Parliament, for the successful London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games bid, beating the favourites Paris in 2005. Saw it through from start to finish, on the Olympic board throughout
- Only female Labour MP to serve continuously as a Minister for the entire duration of the last Labour Government, from 1997 – 2010, with 9 years in the Cabinet
- Held other ministerial positions including; Minister for the Cabinet Office, Minister for Women, Minister for Employment, and Minister for London.
- Retired from House of Commons in 2015, entering the House of Lords in the same year as Baroness Jowell of Brixton
- Honorary Fellowships/Professorships at Nuffield College Oxford, the LSE and Harvard University.
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