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Shirley Williams was an inspiration to all liberals

Posted on Apr 14, 2021

I was at St Paul’s girls’ school with Shirley Williams, two years her junior (Obituary, 12 April). I remember, as a 13-year-old, hearing her passionately decrying inequality and poverty, and applauding William Beveridge, the welfare state and the 1944 Education Act. It was from St Paul’s that she won her scholarship to Oxford University.

Even then, her kindness was unique, and her encouragement of us younger pupils very special. This characteristic meant that in later life she felt a responsibility to give so much time to the needs of her wider family, in spite of her full political and academic work, and demonstrates her unique goodness and generosity.

After the death of her brother, John, Williams cared for his three sons from his first marriage, and two daughters from his second marriage. Your obituary failed to mention that she is also survived by her two grandsons, Sam and Nat, who she described as being “passionate about politics” like she was.

Yes, she might have become our first woman prime minister, but she is one of the few politicians who chose such a career not for personal success, but because she really cared about the whole of society, for justice and equality. We will all miss her so much.
Margaret Owen

The very sad death of Shirley Williams creates as big a gap on the centre-left of British politics as the departure of Margaret Thatcher bequeathed to the Conservative right. As the last president of the Liberal party in 1988, I was lucky enough to work closely with Shirley during the difficult Liberal/Social Democratic party merger negotiations, and to share the interim presidency of the new party with her immediately after.

Without her combination of intelligence, sense of fun and political record of achievement on board the merger project, I doubt very much whether such a large majority of Liberals would have voted for it.

What we shall miss most is her commitment to causes and policies that chime with anyone who feels themselves to be on the left of centre in UK politics. The world Shirley wanted to see is the world that all Liberals or Liberal Democrats want to see. I wish she was still here to help us see it.
Adrian Slade
Liberal party president, 1987-88

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