Last Friday, the world lost a highly colorful, eccentric, charismatic character as Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam died in a hospice in Kent, England at age 55. She died of a brain tumor that first appeared in 1997. In her tenure as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--a job no British government cabinet member ever wants, she being no exception, because it is viewed as a second-rate position, a position of exile--she was both hated and loved by both the nationalists and extremely conservative Unionists. However, they will never forget her because she was straight-forward, chewed gum, put her feet up on the highly polished table during meetings if she felt like it, swore at politicians, poked fun at them, and, once even, took off her wig to help diffuse tension during a very important meeting. Though she did not want to be sent to Northern Ireland, once she became the SoS, she settled into her role with unmitigated dedication and enthusiasm, grew to love the province, and was one of the key players instrumental in bringing Sinn Fein to the negotiating table and helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement.
Though a huge public persona, Mo was an intensely private individual and few were privy to her most intimate thoughts. Her youth was spent in difficult circumstances--her father descending into the grip of alcoholism--and she experienced much personal tragedy in her life, which included the loss of a boyfriend by drowning whom she loved intensely. Moreover, Mo made her presence felt on our side of the pond because she spent six years here, studying for a Ph.D at the University of Iowa and teaching in Florida where she was stalked and assaulted (before managing to escape) by a stranger who broke into her apartment. She maintained vociferously that her stalker was Ted Bundy who killed two young women at a nearby campus.
On her return to Britain, she did what had to be done to rise up Labour's ranks, won a seat in Westminster eventually, and moved up the rungs of government. In fact, her popularity became so great, she obtained a huge ovation at the 1998 Labour Party Conference, one so huge it outlasted Tony Blair's ovation, and she was convinced he never forgave her for that.
Though long gone from Northern Ireland when Mo took her position there, I recognized from afar that elusive blend of charisma, determination and irreverence that defined her public persona, that set people like her apart, and loved her for it. Though retired from public life due to the illness, she will be missed by her peers, enemies and all who admired her. The world is a darker place for her departure. God speed, Mo.
[technorati: Mo Mowlam, Tony Blair, British Cabinet, Ted Bundy]