Denis Healey remembered by Shirley Williams

Dennis Healey

I first met Denis when I was 15 and my father [the political scientist and philosopher George Catlin] took me to the 1946 Labour party conference.

Denis was just out of the army and still wearing uniform and I remember him speaking very well about the prospects of a new postwar world. He struck me as intelligent, thoughtful and wonderfully vigorous.

I realised over the years as I got to know him better and was elected to parliament myself that Denis always got on very well with children. He really liked them and was so funny. He was an irrepressible, adoring husband and father. He never sought to suppress the mischief of the child that was still in him and I remember, when he and his wife, Edna, were being photographed, he would make ludicrous faces at the camera.

I learned lots from him, not least the need for a politician to have a hinterland, not just of academic study but also of friendship. He had an extraordinary range of friends, some of them Conservatives. He was never a tribalist.

He also had a phenomenal knowledge of classical music. I remember when we both appeared on a BBC music quiz, I felt so embarrassed because Denis knew the precise movement of each concerto, he even knew the Köchel number and I did not. I came away thinking: “I’m not going to do that again.”

Denis was indomitable, remarkable and the last of a great generation of political leaders who managed to build a postwar Britain we could be proud of and to belong to governments that were bold, radical and had great achievements to their credit.

Watch Denis Healey’s speech to the 1976 Labour party conference.

Of course, he couldn’t stop himself from saying exactly what he thought. He was very brave. The most famous moment of his chancellorship came in 1976 when he went to the Labour party conference in Blackpool and defended his decision to make a deal with the International Monetary Fund in order to save the pound. People started booing and heckling but he proceeded onwards, paying no attention, hammering it home. I’ve rarely seen anything braver than that. He had the air of someone shouting the truth out.

He was devoted to Edna. It was a lifelong love affair. My favourite personal memory is of visiting them both in their beautiful house in the South Downs and Edna clutching her Zimmer frame while preparing things in the kitchen and Denis dancing around behind her, teasing her, not doing very much to help.

I miss him and his wonderful zest for life.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Shirley Williams, for The Observer on Sunday 27th December 2015 08.00 Europe/London

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