A cycling cortege, a coffin made of cardboard: Oxford's unorthodox farewell to a Green friend

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The Independent Online

They carried Mike Woodin to his last resting place yesterday in a manner he would have found fitting as a committed Green politician - in a cardboard coffin, on a trailer drawn by a bike.

It wasn't hired men in black suits who did it. The bike was instead ridden by his longstanding friend Paul Ingram, a former Green party city councillor in Oxford, where Dr Woodin was leader of the Green group.

Behind the coffin his widow Deborah rode a bike of her own with their son Rafael, aged two, in the child seat, and their daughter Talia, aged five, in tandem. And behind them came 50 more friends and relatives on bicycles, halting the traffic in Oxford's streets with their curious two-wheeled cortege - slow, solemn, and very sad.

They paused outside Balliol college, where Dr Woodin was a lecturer in psychology, and where the flag was flying at half-mast. Then they made their way to the city's Wolvercote cemetery, where hundreds of people had come from all over Britain to pay tribute.

For Dr Woodin, a leading member of the Green party nationally, was one of its two "principal speakers" or public faces for six of the last eight years. He was among its most-respected and best-loved figures. And, even though he was a non-smoker, he died of lung cancer at only 38.

Cycling was but one of the many causes dear to Green hearts which he championed - reducing pollution, increasing recycling, and promoting social housing were all high on his agenda. But in yesterday's unconventional obsequies, his grieving friends and family put two-wheeled transport to powerful effect to demonstrate how different and special they thought he was.

"Mike was everything a Green politician ought to be," said Caroline Lucas, one of the party's two Euro MPs, and a long-time colleague. "His real talent was in combining a radical and inspiring vision of how the world ought to be with the practical steps to get there.

"He lived his politics every day of his life with an intensity and commitment that were an inspiration to all of us. He spoke at our spring conference this year of how cancer had punched an enormous hole in his life. And now it has punched an enormous hole in the lives of his family and friends, and everyone connected with Green politics."

Dr Woodin became one of the party's first city councillors in Oxford in 1994, and the seven-member Green group of which he was leader at the time of his death is now the country's strongest local authority Green party caucus, jointly with Lancaster Greens.

However, he made his mark nationally as much as locally, as an articulate and good-humoured spokesman for Green politics on radio and television. He was one of the party's main strategic thinkers and one of the key figures behind the party's breakthrough at the Euro-elections of 1999, when Ms Lucas and Jean Lambert became the party's first Euro MPs.

They were both re-elected last month, and Ms Lucas said last night that the last time she saw him was at the vote count on June 13, where, despite being stricken with his cancer, "he was cheering us on".

She said: "He was brilliant. He was a great soul."