'EMPLOYER WHO WAS MY FRIEND'
By Dr Vanessa Gearson
Southern Daily Echo – 2 March 2000
Michael Colvin was not just my employer – he was my friend. For the past 18 months I worked for him at the House of Commons as his Private Secretary and came to know him, his family and his beloved Romsey constituency very well indeed. Mind you, Michael Colvin MP came as one half of an inseparable team – his wife Nichola playing an integral part in his political life.
Michael and Nichola interviewed me together and it immediately struck me how close they were and how – even having been married for 44 years – they were able to make each other laugh. As the interview progressed, I asked him what he was really looking for in the person he employed. "Quite simply, I would like a friend," he said.
The following day, having seemingly passed the test, I was making my way into the centre of London when I received a call on my mobile telephone from Michael. Without introducing himself he announced: "I have just spoken with your husband and we decided you should have this job." There it was – a fait accompli – and so I began to work for a couple who would become firm friends – not only to me but to my husband as well.
Working for Michael was in itself a lesson in how things should be done. He was impeccable in his manner and his dress – a true gentleman – and his sense of duty pervaded all aspects of his life. He also had a wry sense of humour. He once introduced me to John Maples, the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, as "my wretched secretary". The look of surprise on my face must have been very obvious as he then laughed and said: "Wretched for you in that you have to work for me!"
Michael was a very amiable man. Indeed, I never once saw him lose his temper. He was full of energy and was not afraid of rolling up his sleeves and helping out – whatever was required. He fought passionately for the issues he cared about. He had a deep social and moral conscience and cared first and foremost for the people he represented and the needs of his constituency. He also had a profound respect for Parliament and for its traditions.
Michael was very artistic and always carried a sketchbook with him. I remember one particular sketch he brought to the office following a rather dry debate in the House after midnight. He had spotted Madam Speaker slouching in her chair with her shoes kicked off and her glasses on the end of her nose and had used the pen in his pocket to capture the moment for posterity.
We always laughed about the difference between the city girl and the country gentleman. He once asked me if I rode. "Only in taxis," I replied. He had promised me a pair of wellington boots, horrified to learn that I did not possess a pair.
Michael loved life at the House although he had a pathological loathing of one particular aspect of modern life – the pager. Its constant bleeping, purring and vibrating did not agree with him. Nonetheless, even after more than 20 years in the House of Commons, he loved to hear Big Ben chime.
Many people have asked me how Michael felt about remaining a backbencher. I think the key to this is simply explained. He was satisfied. He loved being a constituency MP and had no ambition to climb the ministerial ladder – a remarkable quality in an environment that can be so aggressive and personally orientated.
Michael was a man of integrity, principle and honour. A life in politics can be fickle and transient and yet he lived according to his values – in this respect politics had no part to play. Most of all, nothing mattered more than his family and it is with this knowledge that I believe they are able to draw strength from one another during these awful days.
As for me, I respected him enormously and still cannot believe that he and Nichola are no longer with us. As we try to come to terms with this terrible tragedy I shall attempt to do what he would have wanted and expected – to carry on as normal and be positive. There is a lot of work to be done and, until such time as Romsey has a new Member of Parliament, I shall be here to do what I can in his name.