‘Passionate’ politician Paddy Ashdown hailed at memorial service

Hundreds of people have attended a memorial service for former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Family, friends and former colleagues gathered at St John’s Church in Yeovil, Somerset, to pay tribute to the politician.

The former long-standing MP for Yeovil died surrounded by family on December 22 last year aged 77 – weeks after he revealed he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer.

The service was conducted by the Reverend James Dudley-Smith and attended by Lord Ashdown’s widow Jane and his family.

Paddy Ashdown
Paddy Ashdown pictured with his wife Jane, on the day he was elected the leader of the new Social and Liberal Democratic Party in 1988 (PA)

Among those paying public tribute was David Laws, who succeeded him as Yeovil’s MP in 2001.

Mr Laws said: “Paddy did some of his best work not just in Yeovil and the United Kingdom, but overseas; in Bosnia; he was a passionate supporter of the European Union and the United Nations.

“But he was very definitely not the ‘Citizen of Nowhere’ that our current Prime Minister once talked of.

“He saw no conflict at all in his loyalty to his home village of Norton-sub-Hamdon, his constituency of Yeovil, his county home of Somerset and his country, but also simultaneously to Bosnia, to the European Union, the United Nations, to the children of Africa he fought for in his Unicef role.

“He rejected a false choice of country or town versus the wider world and he believed instinctively in pulling down the walls and barriers that divide us.

“It is a tragedy that we lost Paddy in our country at a time when he had some much to contribute to the current debates about our future.

“He was always a fighter, a battler and an optimist and would have drawn great comfort from the recent performance of the party he led and loved.

Lord Ashdown
Lord Ashdown pictured during campaigning in 1997 as Liberal Democrat leader (PA)

“And he would have judged as a liberal, as a historian and as an optimist that eventually good in mankind will prevail and we will return again not to building walls but to breaking down barriers that divide us.”

The congregation sang Lord Ashdown’s favourite hymn, I Vow To Thee, My Country, as well as the naval hymn Eternal Father, Strong To Save.

Lord Ashdown was the MP for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001 and leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 to 1999.

His career prior to politics included service in the elite Special Boat Service, and the Foreign Office.

Following an outspoken career as an MP, he went on to serve as High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina and later as an active member of the House of Lords.

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