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The shocking suddenness of Helen’s illness and loss has deprived Fife of one of its most dedicated servants in the chamber and of one of its most principled parliamentarians. Although we in this place are rightly talking about Helen’s contribution to politics and public life, I recognise that it is undoubtedly as a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a friend that her loss will be most keenly felt. I extend the thoughts and prayers of myself and my party to Helen’s family in supporting the motion of condolence.
In all the tributes to Helen Eadie over the past few days, two themes have emerged. The first of those is Helen’s fundamental care for people. Although I did not know her as well as other members did, it was evident to me that she was driven by a deep concern for others, be they her constituents, her colleagues or her family. That care for people and desire to help others shaped much of her career and many of her views. She was a vocal opponent of the local government reorganisation that introduced multimember wards largely because her experience as a councillor in Fife taught her that smaller wards allowed her to represent the interests of her constituents more effectively. Whether she was campaigning to improve the care of pensioners in Fife or working on behalf of the Polish and Bulgarian communities, Helen’s priority was always her constituents rather than her career or status as a politician.
I was telling Johann Lamont that, when I first arrived here as an MSP, I was a little intimidated by Helen, which seems strange in retrospect. I knew that she had resigned from several committees in protest that a Conservative could take any sort of leadership role in equal opportunities. I had watched as Helen would raise herself in the chamber, trembling in paroxysms of anti-Tory ire on—well, actually, on almost any given subject that one cares to mention.
Helen caught me in the corridor a few weeks after I became leader and I have to say that I thought that I was for it. However, I was not, because in private Helen was both warm and kind hearted. She had stopped me to ask whether I would pass on a letter to a United Kingdom Cabinet colleague, because she needed help to help others in her constituency and wanted to know whether I would oblige.
That was not the only time that Helen asked me to help intervene on one issue or another on behalf of her constituents. I always did help, because her requests were so modest and her wish to help was so heartfelt. They almost became personal missions to her and she was always on the side of the weak and the poor—the people who just needed a big sister to wrap an arm around them and tell them, “Let’s see if we can’t make this better.”
Neither the letters exchanged nor the back-door channels ever made it into the press, even when the situation was not resolved to Helen’s liking. She was much keener to do whatever it took to help than to grandstand or gain credit just for trying. Not everyone in the chamber can say the same thing.
It has been said in newspaper tributes, at yesterday’s funeral service and here again today that, even when Helen was confined to her hospice bed, she insisted on carrying on her duties as a local MSP, replying to correspondence and sending instructions to her colleagues—I hope that members have all done what she asked. That sort of dedication is remarkable, but I did not think that it surprised anyone who knew Helen, as they would not be able to imagine anything else. Her life and career were characterised by absolute honesty, decency and integrity.
We have lost too many of our class of 99 this year. With every Scottish election, new people have the privilege of taking their seats in the chamber. Helen was an example to all who came after of what a people’s representative should be and of how to put your constituents first. She showed that, although one can put one’s argument with force and passion in the chamber, one can work with others as colleagues—no matter what party—to make a difference.
The story of Helen’s indignation and subsequent resignations at my colleague Margaret Mitchell taking on the convenership of the Equal Opportunities Committee is legend and, as the First Minister mentioned, it came with a withering comment about Attila the Hun. Less well known is that under Margaret’s guidance, that same committee produced an in-depth report on women in prison and their rights and treatment. Helen sought out Margaret especially to tell her what a fine and important piece of work that was. That was Helen’s other side: completely supportive and generous with her praise when she saw someone else standing up for the overlooked, the oppressed and the vulnerable.
Helen had unshakeable political convictions and passion for expressing her beliefs with full force. One would be hard pushed to find a more decent, honest or principled parliamentarian than Helen Eadie. For me, her most abiding quality was to care: to care for her constituents, to care for the difference that she could make and to show care and respect for her opponents as well as her friends.
As our thoughts and prayers go out to Bob, Jemma, Fiona and the wider family at this time, we remember with affection one of Holyrood’s most honourable members.