Lasting Tribute page for FRANCIS PYM
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Francis Pym, later Lord Pym of Sandy, who died on 7 March, 2008, was a left-leaning Conservative MP who was a loyal supporter of Edward Heath but an opponent of Margaret Thatcher.He was Foreign Secretary during the Falklands War in 1982, but was also a leading ‘wet’ and a vocal critic of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher.During his political career his roles also included Chief Whip, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Defence Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons.Francis Leslie Pym was born on 13 February, 1922, into an affluent family already steeped in political history. His ancestor, John Pym, was leader of Parliament in the years running up to the English Civil War and had been a fierce opponent of Charles I. Francis’ father, Leslie Pym, was an MP for Monmouth during the Second World War and died in 1945 during counting of that year’s election.Francis was educated at Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge. In December 1941 he joined the army and served with the 9th Lancers in Egypt. After the war, and following his father’s death, he decided not to move into the family’s estate in Bedfordshire, opting instead to go into the world of business.He was given a management job by Lord Woolton, the chairman of John Lewis, starting what was to be a successful career with several firms. Lord Woolton later became Conservative Party chairman and under his influence, Mr Pym entered politics as a member of Herefordshire council in 1958.In 1961 the Tory safe seat of Cambridgeshire became available. His record in business earned him the nomination and after the by-election he served in the seat for the next 22 years. Following boundary changes he was then MP for Cambridgeshire South East for a further four years.He was appointed as a Government whip in 1962 and over the following decade he worked his way up to the position of Chief Whip under newly elected Prime Minister Edward Heath. He was instrumental in helping the beleaguered Heath government pass several troubled bills and his reward was promotion to the office of Northern Ireland Secretary, though the job lasted a mere 12 months because Labour won the 1974 election.His hard work as an opposition MP nearly led to a breakdown and he was forced to take a three-month sabbatical. This and the fact that he voted against Mrs Thatcher in the 1975 leadership contest might have signalled the end of his political career, but he was surprisingly made Shadow Foreign Secretary and then Defence Secretary following the Tories’ ascent to power in the 1979 election.Thus began the conflict. Mrs Thatcher’s supporters became known as the ‘dries’ in contrast to the ‘wets’, a piece of public school slang that found an odd place in the greengrocer’s daughter’s cabinet. She and Mr Pym first clashed over proposed budget cuts for the Ministry of Defence and Mr Pym’s firm stance was successful.When Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington resigned on the eve of the Falklands War, Mr Pym was appointed to take overthe position – despite Mrs Thatcher's reservations, whips had convinced her that his political and military record made him the best candidate.His elevation to Foreign Secretary saw him put aside his previous reticence to become an eloquent and authoritative speaker. While the Prime Minister was keen to capitalise on the military campaign, Mr Pym was searching for a diplomatic solution. Many commentators felt his work helped minimise damage to international relations, but the Prime Minister saw it as an undermining of her authority.It was a battle within the party but it was settled on the fields of the Falkland islands – British victory ensured a successful 1983 election for Mrs Thatcher, but had her strategy failed Mr Pym might well have succeeded her as party leader. As it was, he promptly became the latest wet to be dismissed after commenting that “landslides on the whole don’t produce successful governments”.He continued to serve as an MP for a further four years, during which time he became a figurehead for the One Nation school of conservatism, leading to the formation of Conservative Centre Forward, a short-lived traditionalist pressure group.In 1987 he stepped down as an MP and was given a life peerage as Baron Pym of Sandy, a small market town in Bedfordshire. He had sold most of his family’s estate, but retained an impressive home on the grounds where he enjoyed tending for his impressive gardens. In the Lords he continued to be interested in foreign affairs and served on committees on party funding.He suffered a stroke in 1998, severely limiting his political activities but he was able to publish a family history. He died in Bedfordshire at the age of 86 after a prolonged illness. He was survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Valerie, and their two sons and two daughters.
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