Obituary: Laura Grimond
LAURA GRIMOND was one of those splendid invisible women who helped other women and political pluralism without seeking publicity for herself. She wrote little, cared for all and always supported liberal causes. She ignored hierarchy, despite (or perhaps because of) her heritage. She was a granddaughter of the prime minister Herbert Asquith and daughter of the formidable Lady Violet Bonham Carter. Supremely, she supported her husband, Jo Grimond, who inspired the Liberal Party's voice and kept this special strand in Britain's political voice alive throughout polarisation.
Jo was dedicated to the Liberal philosophy, sometimes to excess. Before their wedding, Jo proposed to get married in the morning and return to work in the afternoon. Laura dissuaded him.
One of Laura Grimond's concerns was the representation of women and the promotion of women's rights. 1987 saw the centenary of the Women's Liberal Federation. As the guests of Dame Christian Howard we celebrated in Castle Howard, once home of the Countess of Carlisle, who inspired the massive women's Liberal movement at the beginning of the century. I walked with Laura down the Long Gallery, filled with good paintings, display cabinets of silver and china and fine, free-standing sculptures. She remembered it well. 'As children, we used to play here. We played 'Are you there, Moriarty?' '
I handed over the presidency of the Women's Liberal Federation to Laura Grimond in 1983 and she was our President until 1985. Forty years before, her mother had taken over our presidency for the second time. Just before taking over herself, Laura was interviewed for Women's Hour. She reminded us of Mrs Prior, the first woman local councillor, in 1890, and of the row in 1914 to ensure that child-care benefits should be paid to the mother. Alas, this ghostly issue still haunts us.
We had good meetings in the Grimonds' London home, where friends and family came and went (occasionally acknowledged if conversation permitted) and a huge stew-pot in the kitchen ensured our material survival.
Laura contributed largely to her husband's electoral success in 1950 in the scattered Orkney and Shetland constitutency. Jim Wallace, Jo's successor in 1983, remembers her as his indefatigable and highly knowledgeable agent and thereafter for her continuing friendship and support. His election was promising, but Laura is also remembered for turning up at by-elections with far poorer prospects, tramping out to the worst part of the constituency, walking up the garden path, listening and explaining.
She stood for West Aberdeen in 1970 and it is a thousand pities that she was not elected to grace the House of Commons. Orkney would claim that it was their gain. Councillor for Firth and Harray, she became Chairman of Orkney Islands Council's Housing Committee.
Laura and Jo Grimond both strongly supported the fusion of the Liberal and Social Democrat parties and their friendship with Roy Jenkins contributed to the eventual birth of the Liberal Democrats.
Laura had a splendid mind, filled with history as well as with new issues. She contributed much to Liberal Party policy, notably on the rights of women and on defence. Her instinctive understanding of the needs of people who were deprived of rights and opportunities came from the heart. She saw everything clearly and translated it into practical work; delivering items for the Women's Liberal Federation's Chelsea Christmas Bazaar, the first person one was likely to see was Laura, telling us where to put what.
Laura Grimond's death follows not long after the death of her husband. As she never bothered about personal publicity and gravely underestimated her own contribution to the Liberal cause, maybe this as she would have wished.
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