I once found myself in the same Strasbourg restaurant as Ian Paisley. When Paisley left it seemed half the customers around the room got up to leave with him. They were of course his bodyguards. No such entourage ever followed John Hume, who despite the many threats he received, refused personal protection.
He was a man of peace and lived his life by that principle. He had tremendous courage, whether facing down British troops high on adrenaline or calming an incensed nationalist crowd baying for justice. Of course it was his courage to ignore all the vilification that was heaped on him and meet secretly with Gerry Adams which paved the way to the Good Friday agreement.
He was also a lovely man. I would often bump into him in Brussels or Strasbourg, just wandering around on his own looking for something to eat. Inevitably we ended up putting the world to rights in the nearest restaurant to the early hours. He was great company, a brilliant and funny raconteur, with an endless supply of stories. He was most at ease among the rank and file groups who came to the European Parliament as visitors, not only talking politics, but also mixing socially over dinner. John rarely needed much encouragement to lead a sing song.
In the European Parliament we sat together in the chamber. Then John would talk about his conviction that true peace can only come when people set aside old antagonisms and find a fresh way of looking at problems. He was also clear that peace could only be built on consent and communities working together for the common good. Those were the ideas which drove his support for the European Union, which he described as “the longest running and most successful peace process in history”.
When the Socialist Group met in Berlin, just after the wall came down, John produced from his bag a brick which he said came from Derry his home town. He spoke eloquently about communities divided not just by physical barriers, but social and historical ones as well. Pulling down the physical barriers was just the beginning of building peace and prosperity.
John started in politics by setting up a credit union in Derry so that poor people could save and borrow. His life there after was dedicated to finding pragmatic ways to make ordinary lives safer, happier and more prosperous. He didn’t do it all on his own. He had support, not least from his formidable wife Pat, but he changed the world with courage, vision and determination.
Other obituaries will laud the statesman. I remember a lovely man, a friend and a passionate European.
By Gary Titley - Former European Parliamentary Labour leader