Monday, 13 December 2010

William Thompson 1939 - 2010

At the beginning of a week when, if Vanessa's midwife has got it right, we hope to usher a new life into this crazy world, I've just received some terribly sad news about an old friend who has just departed. 

William Thompson was the Ulster Unionist MP for West Tyrone from 1997 - 2001.  It wasn't a seat he was expected to win and, when he did so, he knew that he would almost certainly lose at the next election.

He was therefore determined to make the most it, and he certainly did that.

Tragically, his time in Westminster coincided with the Omagh bomb on 15 August 1998 in which 29 people lost their lives and 220 were injured.

Willie was the local MP and I still vividly recall his live interview on BBC1's Breakfast With Frost the morning after the atrocity in which he showed no bitterness but shed a lot of tears.   

He was strongly opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.  The reasons were many - chief amongst them the fact that so many convicted terrorists were released back on to the streets - but he did so on principle, not for effect.  And if you didn't agree with him, well that was your right and he wouldn't hold it against you.

Indeed, my favourite memory of Willie goes back to the spring of 2000 when Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble was challenged unsuccessfully for his job by the then Chief Whip Martin Smith.

After the votes had been counted, David phoned me up to ask what I thought we might do to help bring the Parliamentary Party back together.  I suggested he hold a series of private one-to-one meetings with each of the other nine MPs, which he agreed to.

I allocated about 45 minutes in David's diary for each of these, with some individuals using up all of the time available, and others a little bit less.

But Willie's meeting was by far the shortest.  In fact, I don't think it lasted much more than four minutes. 

He arrived in my room, next to David's, grinning from ear. I told him to go on in, whilst I climbed under my desk to wait for the fallout.  But I should have known better.

When he appeared back at my door after his rapid fire get together, a huge smile was again plastered across his face.

"Oh dear," I said, fearing he had decided to resign or do something equally problematic. "How did it go?"

"Let me put it this way," said Willie, still beaming and without a hint of malice.

"If someone from the press phones me up, I will tell them this: 'The Party Leader and I had a frank exchange of views, after which both of us emerged with a very clear understanding of each other's position.'  Is that OK?"

"Yes, Willie - spot on," I replied, through my laughter.

And with that he was off.

A couple of minutes later, David appeared in my room, hands in pockets and sporting the exact same enormous grin as Willie before him.

"Well?"  I asked.

David didn't respond.  He just shook his head, still smiling, and returned next door.

The message? Willie was being Willie - and no-one would ever have a problem with that.

My heart goes out to his wife Violet and his immediate family for their loss.  

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