John Major has said Lord Ashdown was a ‘man of duty, passion, and devotion to the country he loved right up to the very end’ as tributes were paid at the funeral of the former Lib Dem leader who died from cancer last month.
Lord Ashdown’s family and friends celebrated the life of the Royal Marine and MI6 agent turned statesman today.
The ex-MP’s widow Jane managed a smile as she was supported by loved-ones including the couple’s children and grandchildren at St Mary’s church in Norton Sub Hamdon, near Yeovil, Somerset.
Paying tribute, Sir John Major also said of Lord Ashdown: ‘In Government, Paddy Ashdown was my opponent. In life, he was a much-valued friend.’
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats died surrounded by his family on December 22, aged 77, just weeks after revealing he was battling bladder cancer.
His family wanted his funeral to be a private service with the majority of guests friends and supporters from the local area.
Paddy Ashdown’s widow Jane (centre) managed a smile as she was supported by loved-ones at her husband’s Somerset funeral today
Sir John Major was also among mourners celebrating the life of the former Liberal Democrat leader, who died aged 77 last month. He described Lord Ashdown as a ‘man of duty, passion, and devotion to the country he loved right up to the very end’
Pallbearers carry the wicker coffin containing Lord Ashdown at his moving funeral in Somerset today
Lord Ashdown died of bladder cancer just three weeks after he revealed he was undergoing treatment
It meant many prominent Liberal Democrat politicians did not attend, although a large memorial service will be held in London later this year with guests expected to include Sir Vince Cable, Tim Farron and Nick Clegg.
The service for loved-ones was conducted by his close friend, former rector Peter Thomas, who started the funeral with a reference to Paddy’s real name Jeremy.
Mourners laughed when he welcomed them by saying: ‘We’ve come together to remember before God our brother Paddy – and I suspect God also knew him as Paddy rather than Jeremy and probably didn’t call him Lord.’
One of the speakers at the service, Myles Wickstead, said Lord Ashdown ‘espoused the values of openness and tolerance, and he found them in this village which he loved’.
He added: ‘He was never happier than when at the Lord Nelson on a Friday night, indulging in a mixture of arguments, fun, gossip, banter and, of course, drink.
‘Our community and our country now are poorer that Paddy has gone.’
Tributes have poured in for former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, pictured last year at the Henley Literary Festial
His sister Alisoun Downing said: ‘You were always the axis of our family. My big brother out there fighting dragons somewhere. And I thought you would always be there.’
Alison read one of Lord Ashdown’s favourite poems, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, by John Donne.
She said Lord Ashdown’s ‘advice’ to those attending was the poem’s final lines: ‘Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end where I begun.’
His former constituents, serving Marines and even a horse wearing Liberal Democrat rosettes attended the service at Midday.
A spokesman for Sir Vince said: ‘It was an expressly private ceremony, and the party was represented by Baroness Olly Grender and Baroness Cathy Bakewell.
‘Sir Vince will attend the memorial service planned for later this year.’
In an extraordinary life he quit school before his A-Levels to join the Royal Marines in 1959 and would later be recruited to Britain’s elite Special Boat Service, the seagoing equivalent of the SAS.
He served in Borneo, Hong Kong, the Persian Gulf and later commanded the Marines in Northern Ireland in 1970 before retiring with the rank of Captain.
Lord Ashdown would join MI6 as an agent but as diplomatic cover worked for the Foreign Office at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.
He then moved into politics and was elected as MP for Yeovil, Somerset, in 1983.
He then took over as leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1988 after its crushing 1987 General Election defeat, leading it to a stunning breakthrough at the 1992 election.
He was extolled as one of the ‘most talented politicians never to hold high office’ after being eclipsed by Labour’s 1997 Election having been on the brink of a coalition government.
After stepping down as leader in 1999, Mr Ashdown was knighted and then made a peer as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon.
He became High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2002, and was an active campaigner for Remain in the 2016 referendum.
The Prime Minister led a chorus of cross-party tributes, remembering a man who ‘served his country with distinction’ when he died just before Christmas.
Theresa May said: ‘It is with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of Lord Ashdown. He dedicated his life to public service and he will be sorely missed. My thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this difficult time.’
Lord Ashdown’s body is carried on its final journey into the church at Norton Sub Hamdon, near Yeovil in Somerset today
Paddy’s widow is accompanied by family into the church for the funeral, which was not open to the public
Sir John Major is greeted by the vicar of St Mary’s Church, Norton Sub Hamdon, who led the funeral service
Members of the Royal Marines band arrive at the church to celebrate the life of the serviceman turned statesman
Current Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said it was ‘a hugely sad day’ for the party and everyone else across politics ‘who had immense affection and respect for Paddy’.
‘He was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena. He was an accomplished author, and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons.
‘Few people know how hard he fought to get into politics following his service in the Marines and diplomatic service.’
Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major hailed his one- time rival as ‘a man of duty, passion and devotion to the country he loved – right up to the very end’.
‘In government, Paddy Ashdown was my opponent,’ he added. ‘In life, he was a much-valued friend. Throughout his life, Paddy was a true patriot, whose overriding wish was to serve his country: first, in the Marines, and then in both Houses of Parliament.
‘I can attest to the fact that – even when he knew he was gravely ill –Paddy’s concern for the future of our country continued to dominate his thinking.’
And fellow 1990s sparring partner Tony Blair, with whom Ashdown held talks about forming a coalition in 1997, said he was ‘deeply saddened and shocked by the news about Paddy’.
‘I had enormous admiration for Paddy as a man and as a political visionary and leader.
‘He was one of the most talented politicians never to hold high office but as leader of the Liberal Democrats he nonetheless had a major impact on British political life.’
Paddy Ashdown, pictured here with his wife Jane, and dog Luke, died earlier today aged 77
Ashdown, second right, began his military career in the Royal Marine Commandos
Ashdown, right, pictured in Borneo, was also in the Special Boat Service, the Marine version of the SAS
In 1988, Ashdown, pictured with his wife, was elected leader of the newly created Social and Liberal Democratic Party which saw a merger between the SDP and the Liberals
Ashdown, pictured here with John Major and Tony Blair in 1995, received tributes from across the political spectrum
Ashdown was a hugely-respected figure on the world stage despite never being a Government minister (pictured with Nelson Mandela in 1996)
The former party leader, pictured at the party’s spring conference in 2015, was the UN’s High Representative for Bosnia and Herszegovina between 2002 and 2006