Over 220 guests (from 12 - 95 years of age) joined members of Sir John's family, his personal friends, Parliamentary and constituency staff and his previous (and current!) Agents at a magnificent dinner at Tonbridge School. The menu was poached salmon with avocado, locally reared beef fillet with beef cheek, fondant potato and seasonal vegetables and lemon tart.
After the meal, Mrs Marion Cole delivered the vote of thanks to Sir John, highlighting his service to party, government, country and constituency since 1974.
In reply Sir John spoke amusingly about his search for a seat, his selection as candidate at Tonbridge & Malling (beating Nigel Lawson and Douglas Hurd in the final) and defeating his first Labour opponent, Jack Straw in 1974. He recalled his work as Mrs Thatcher's PPS, and following 1979 as Minister of State for Housing, Northern Ireland and for the Armed Forces. He thanked his family for their love and support and recalled,
"People today may not remember how dangerous things then were, especially as the Prime Minister's PPS and then as Minister of State for Northern Ireland. My predecessor, Airey Neave, was murdered by the IRA as was my successor and friend, Ian Gow. The pressure of living with the security and the constant threat was enormous, but they supported me throughout and I couldn't have done it without them."
He spoke movingly about the support he has received from the local Association, highlighting two important points, which are sadly lacking in many organisations; (i) the Association has never split nor been driven by factionalism or internal divisions, and (ii) It has never been disloyal nor stabbed him in the back or tried to undermine him.
"As a Minister, especially in Northern Ireland and Armed Forces, I lived daily with the horrors of the world. Death, destruction and torture, often so commonplace that they didn't even warrant mention in the news. Yet through all this I knew that back home in Kent I could rely on the loyalty and support of my Association; who accepted that their MP had duties which took him overseas, and who never tried to undermine what the government was trying to achieve. No matter how difficult things were I always looked forward to coming home to Tonbridge & Malling. Quite simply, your friendship and support made it possible."
It was a truly moving speech from a man who hails from a generation of politicians not known for showing their emotions in public. At the conclusion of his speech every person in the room stood and clapped for three minutes, and deservedly so.
Sir John presented the Association with a wonderful gift to mark the occasion. It was a framed and signed photograph given to him by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 when he was her PPS. The Association in turn presented Sir John and Elizabeth Stanley with a number of gifts bought from a fund provided by the membership. These included tickets for the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, dinner at Wilton's Restaurant and hard-backed book containing the memories and recollections of the members accompanied by photographs of each town, parish and village within the constituency.
|Tonbridge School was the wonderful setting for the dinner|
|Sir John with his family - including his children and grandchildren.|