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Tony Blair's Tribute to Tessa Jowell

Tribute18th October 2018

Packed to the rafters! The words Tessa and ego are an oxymoron; but she would feel more than a tingle of pride at this turnout. And never did such a large memorial give thanks to a more worthy subject.

Here we are, gathered from all corners of the world, all walks of life, nearly all parts of politics and absolutely all sorts of experiences to pay tribute to Tessa.

Not here from duty but from love.

We cherish what she meant to each of us individually but also what she means collectively to the idea of a life lived for others.  

She was taken from us, of course, much too soon.

But she went beloved, not becalmed in helpless old age, but with the vibrant, purposeful, impactful Tessa we know, still alive in our minds.

There are people who she touched with her heart. Those families of the victims of 7/7 and 9/11 who will remember her kind, caring presence, the warmth which can’t be faked but only felt, the compassion which didn’t pass when the news cycle moved on.

Her constituents—so fortunate to have an MP, who unlike some politicians, not only loved humanity in general, but loved it in particular—those people she represented and with whom she forged such a deep bond.

The heart of Tessa was a true heart.

She was loyal. But her loyalty was never blind. It was true loyalty. Unafraid to stand up for her friends. Unafraid to stand up to them. But always standing by them, through the thick and the thin, through the good times when friends are plentiful and the bad when they’re scarce.

She was that rare combination—a thinker whose thought was a precursor to action. The 2012 Olympics was Britain’s triumph but Tessa’s brainchild. She persuaded a somewhat sceptical and harassed prime minister at the time—2004—that we had to bid. I recall the meeting. It was typical Tessa. Setting out the case. I raised all the objections. She listened. I was seeing the potential downside. She was focused on the upside. She began talking to me like my mother: “I am not angry,” she said, “just disappointed. Thought you had more ambition for the country.”

I resisted. She persisted. I desisted. It was a declension familiar to anyone who stood in the way of Tessa.

Anyway, by the time she had finished, her ambition had become mine.

She had the audacity to conceive of the British Olympics, but, more important, the capability to make it happen. To make it cross party—with the genius idea of bringing in Seb Coe to help lead it—to realise it in every painstaking detail and to instil in it the spirit of Tessa—open, optimistic, future-embracing, life-enhancing Britain at its best.

True vision.

Only once did she refuse me. I said to her, “Tessa I want you to do something very special for me.” “What?” she asked. “I want you to manage John Prescott.”

She said, “You know I would do anything for you.” “I know,” I said, “that’s why I’m asking you.”

“Except that,” she replied.

Much of what she pioneered in public health, in mental health, in the role of culture and community activism, is now conventional wisdom. But it started with Tessa.

She had a passion for youth. Whether in the creation of Sure Start—and reflect on the hundreds of thousands of children whose life chances were transformed by her foresight—or her work with the amazing Magic Bus project in India, she had an inextinguishable belief in young people’s ability to change the world and drew an inexhaustible amount of inspiration from being around them.

Matthew and Jessie, she must have been a great Mum, even if she was everyone else’s mother too; and she was so inordinately proud of both of you, not just of what you achieved but how you turned out as lovely and fully paid-up members of the human race. And how she adored being a Granny!

And you, David, you were her rock as she was yours, who could talk her out of what was beyond her and into what was good for her, a love which was a beautiful thing to witness and a pleasure to be near.

In her last times, if it were possible, Tessa grew in character even as her body grew weak.

She knew the odds. Knew the timeline. Knew, whatever face she put on for those she loved, that the end was approaching.

But what a finale.

That speech in that House of Lords. That interview with Nick Robinson on the BBC. The event in Downing Street.

Understanding her own demise, yet using every, last drop of energy, concentration and persuasion to re-imagine cancer treatment for those who might survive, for those who in the future might conquer the disease which was taking her if the right decisions were taken for them.

True character.

Not a day goes by without my thinking of Tessa. Naturally we are sad. Yet we are also uplifted. The memory of her still shines. We celebrate even as we commiserate, not only what she meant to us, but even as we mourn her dying, what Tessa meant and means as a lesson in living.

Each of us will die.

Each of us probably at some point in quiet moments assesses our balance sheet: of family and friendship, of achievement and regret not for what was never ours to have, but for what we could have had and didn’t; could have done but failed to do; could have given but refrained from giving.

Tessa died with so much still to give. But if life is measured not in how long you live but by how much you give, she lived a length of Biblical proportions.

By the manner in which she lived her life she gave us hope of how a life should be lived.

True hope.

That was Tessa. My Tessa. Your Tessa. Our Tessa.

The best and most true.

Tessa: we loved you, we thank you and we will never forget you.     

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