One of my memories of the Labour leadership of the 1960s and 1970s is that they had devoted, extremely able and extremely nice spouses – people in their own right: Audrey Callaghan, Ted Castle, Edna Healey, Jennifer Jenkins, Mary Stewart and Mary Wilson. Another such was Grace Thomson, wife of George Thomson, later Lord Thomson of Monifieth.
She was a superb hostess at a time when a superb hostess was an invaluable asset to her husband – Thomson was a senior Foreign Office minister, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, Chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (1981-88) and Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University (1977-91).
But above all she was at George’s right hand when he was one of Britain’s first two European Community commissioners (1973-77). “I married the editor of The Beano and The Dandy, and Forward [the Scottish Labour newspaper, now defunct], and here I am, to my astonishment, hosting the movers and shakers of the European continent.”
She had an excellent relationship with Mary Soames, wife of Sir Christopher, the other British Commissioner and favourite daughter of Sir Winston Churchill. “From hugely different backgrounds, she recalled ,”we got on like a house on fire.” This mattered, in fact, as it enhanced Britain’s good reputation in its Brussels infancy.
Furthermore, from my first-hand knowledge as an east of Scotland MP, and confirmed to me by Peter Doig, later MP for Dundee West, it was only on account of Grace’s winning smile and popularity that George’s seat was not in dire peril. The turbulent (and picturesquely corrupt) Dundee city Labour Party of the day wanted rid of both George Thomson and his fellow Dundee MP, John Strachey, a member of Attlee’s cabinet and moving spirit in the Left-Wing Book Club. Grace saved George’s bacon.
Born Grace Jenkins, she went to the same school as George, Grove Academy in Dundee, and was his sweetheart during his six years of war service in the RAF. In my view, Grace Thomson made George’s success possible.
Grace Jenkins, political wife: born 28 September 1925; married 1948 George Thomson (died 2008; two daughters); died 22 August 2014.
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