Tuesday, December 18, 2012
One of the occupational hazards of public life is the constant stream of funerals that one has to attend and often there seems a surge around about Christmas Time .
Sometimes one turns up out of a sense of duty especially if you know the deceased has few family and their friends have mainly passed on before them and sometimes out of a desire to pay tribute to Community work they have done in the past .
Occasionally one is present to mark the passing of someone who was unique and the likes of which we will not see again .
Yesterday was one of those later occasions when I attended the funeral of my friend Mrs Betty Geller.
Betty, who was 85 and had been fighting a virulent form of cancer for the last couple of years died on Sunday and in the Jewish tradition was buried on Monday, was known throughout the Conservative Party especially in North London and was the type of figure that keeps the Democratic process in our Country running.
Having brought up her family and supported her former Bomber Command husband in his career, Betty became a widow in middle age and decided that her Country and the Conservative Party needed her. She worked diligently on a voluntary basis ( indeed I am sure it cost her thousands over the years ) to support the Conservative Party and the other passion in her life , the State of Israel . She managed to combine both, in her support of the Conservative Friends of Israel of which she became National Vice Chairman . Woe betide any Tory Minister whose attitude was less than One Hundred per cent behind Israel as Betty would remind them in no uncertain terms of the errors of their ways . Many a front bencher has been accosted in the corridor at Conservative Party Conference ( at which Betty was a diligent attender ) and been reminded of the need for the UK to stand firmly with Israel , as a fellow Democratic State in the need for a just settlement in the Middle East .
There was not a Conservative Parliamentary candidate in North London whom Betty had not organised a meeting for, nor was there a Party Leader from Margaret Thatcher onwards with whom she was not on first name terms, after Mrs T, I think her favourite was Michael Howard . Her support for young candidates seeking to make progress in the Party was well known and among her "proteges" was the current Party Chairman Grant Shapps. Having campaigned for many years for her good friend Sir Rhodes Boyson in Brent North and against the lunacies of 1980s Brent Council , Betty would go all over the Country to campaign in Parliamentary by elections in her high heels and always looking immaculate , quite how her feet survived I have no idea!
Serving as President of Brent North Conservative Association she was delighted when her good friend Bob Blackman was elected MP for Harrow East at the 2010 General Election . Bob,also my former colleague on the London Assembly , was present at Betty's funeral yesterday despite the disgraceful behaviour of the gutter press in running some decades old story in which nobody is interested in their columns over the weekend. It was this sort of courage in Bob Blackman as well as his solid and proper Conservative views that Betty so admired.
In the 1990s the misguided John Major abolished "Political Honours" and although honours which would have been given for Political service were often dressed up as something else( "Services to Local Government" or "Services to the Community" ) David Cameron is thankfully slowly bringing them back but not in time to reward Betty. There is no doubt in my mind that Political Service to all mainstream Parties is just as important to Society as Charitable Service , Olympic Bronze medals or thirty years as a hard working school dinner lady . Without voluntary workers to deliver leaflets and canvass and telephone the voters we will be reduced to the state funding of political parties or the collapse of Democracy .
Betty has passed on her genes to her daughter Marilyn , a leading Conservative Councillor in Harrow and indeed to her son in law David Ashton who was an excellent Leader of Harrow Council and fought a first class campaign for Parliament in 2005 .
The presence of so many at Betty's funeral , including many non Jews and several Muslim colleagues of her daughter Marilyn is a tribute to Betty's ability to make friends across any divide and indeed any age group.
Four things it seems to me were important to Betty , her family , her friends , the Conservative Party and the State of Israel. All four will deeply miss her enthusiasm , outspokenness ,handwork, support and dedication .