JEAN TRUMPINGTON

For The Daily Telegraph by EDWINA CURRIE



Whichever way you looked at her, Jean Trumpington was a character. I noted in my diary the evening in 1988 when the Conservative lady MPs and peers treated Margaret Thatcher to dinner in the Cholmondeley Room. "Jean Trumpington, large and black-gowned, looked just like the figurehead on an old ship: splendid, roguish, winking. She was desperate for a cigarette and held out to the Loyal Toast. Just as we were about to rise, the division bell went and we all scattered (Margaret hitching up her black velvet skirt and running down the corridor like a girl - amazing). Ten minutes later and Jean had got through two and was on her third when we came back and was then highly embarrassed as we solemnly did the Toast."

Behind the jollity, in the years I knew her, was a great sadness, with her beloved husband laid low with a stroke in the Star and Garter home in Richmond. Jean did not complain; she would have regarded today's snowflake generation with a snort of disdain. Her life was one of service combined with a huge capacity for jollity. It was always fun, though occasionally a bit alarming, to be in her presence.

She and I were junior ministers together in the Department of Health and Social Security, a team of only six covering those two whopping subjects - and Jean could also be found answering on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food in the Lords, also. On one occasion, answering a question about the potential transfer of chlamydia from pregnant ewes to farmer's wives, she was asked whether DHSS was going to promote more preventive measures. Somewhat impatient by this time, Jean asked tartly whether the questioner was referring to the ewes or the women.

We were both members of the first ministerial team on HIV and AIDS, the one responsible for the "Don't Die of Ignorance" adverts and 23 million leaflets sent to every British household. Speaking to their Lordships, Jean manfully spoke about safe sex, condoms, and various other issues guaranteed to raise eyebrows in those stuffier days. Duty done, her final remark was, "Well! I'm rather glad I've got to the age where these things don't affect me." Up popped little Lewis Eccles, former Education Minister under Harold Wilson. "I'm 66, Baroness. You speak for yourself."

I'm not sure she ever quite approved of me. As a Health Minister I campaigned against cigarettes, whereas she was a believer in freedom to smoke. She was emphatically posh, and had helped teach generations of schoolboys how to behave; coming from Liverpool, I didn't have a clue. Perhaps she never quite realised how much I admired and respected her, for her spirit, her brains, and her courage.