Maggie Smith 18 April 1962— 29 June 2013 By Gerry Downing


24/07/2013 by socialistfight

Maggie Smith 18 April 1962— 29 June 2013

My partner, Maggie, died on 29 June with her family by her bedside. She had smoked since her early teens and throat cancer, diagnosed a year late (she had to tell the doctor what she had!), took her after a six month’s fight.  A timely diagnosis would have given her a far better chance; always insist on action when you suspect the worst!

Maggie was from a Scottish/Irish Republican family in Paisley. Her mother sold her insurances policies so she and her son Laurence could go to the 1970 European Cup Final where Celtic lost to Feyenoord. The wider family had helped to shelter some IRA escapees from the north of Ireland who later made it to the relative safety of the USA. Furious disputes broke out on occasions between the Orange and Republican wings of the family, including one assault on her pregnant mother with a poker because she was carrying “another Fenian bastard”!

I first met her on 29 March 1986 in Kilburn Square when campaigning for the Wapping dispute and selling Workers Press. She was campaigning for the Neasden hospital occupation where she was a leading light. We met in the Cock Tavern when I had finished selling the paper around the pubs in Kilburn. The Workers Press under Dave Bruce’s editorship was now highly regarded and widely read on the left. The post-split Workers Revolutionary Party was at the height of its ‘glasnost’ period of discussion, debate and reassessment with all interested parties. Therefore members were no longer regarded as sectarian freaks who had a mantra for every other group and only engaged them with angry denunciations, most of which was totally inaccurate on their current politics and trajectories, bad and all as that might be. But people would talk to you now and you could have real debates and have some possibility of developing personal relationships.

We never parted after that day in Kilburn Square, despite the conflicts over the years that are part of any relationship. Maggie had worked for the GLC and was then in possession of some modest redundancy money following its closure by Thatcher.  She spent it generously, if not foolishly, as was her wont. She took everyone for an Indian meal near the Old Bell (those working refused her offer). A conflict arose with a man from ‘up north’, JO’C, who had made a sexist remark. He was a small man with a limp but she offered him out; he complained to me bitterly that she had threatened to “fill him in”. I was impressed and her instincts were proved correct; PF had given him free accommodation but he decamped soon after with the contents of the gas meter and was never heard of again.

Maggie was a ‘woman’s woman’, had spent a year at Greenham Common and never accepted sexist attitudes or remarks from anyone, including from me. I was mortified by the obvious backwardness of the WRP on women’s oppression as exemplified by Gerry Healy’s sexual abuse of 26 women over decades as detailed in Aileen Jennings which caused the explosion of the party after July 1985. But her letter also displayed her own and the party’s homophobic attitudes. The farmer’s son from West Cork had much to learn on all aspects of special oppression and Maggie helped me enormously in educating myself in this vital aspect of the class struggle so scorned and neglected by the old WRP (and by some of its descendants today like the WSWS/SEP of David North) as ‘identity politics’.

Maggie several time expressed her amazement at the backward culture she encountered in the WRP on these issues; JS, with decades of WRP membership, expressed his view that gay men really wanted to be women. Young women were encouraged to go out to collect for Young Socialist bazaars dressed revealingly and the remarks of some Healy loyalists at the time of the split like; “she was asking for it”, were just appalling uncultured bigotry. What political culture operated in an organisation who would tolerate the following treatment of a Young Socialist leader who tells us this of her experience?

“The next evening when I was again called in for a discussion (with Gerry Healy GD), he told me to sit on the bed, which I did. He started telling me that he had a “political relationship” with me and that he would “train” me. He said that he had been watching me for some time and could train me to be a revolutionary leader. I was grateful that he was paying so much attention to me. He then came and sat down beside me on the bed and started patting my knee and kissing me. I pulled away again, this time in tears. He again got angry and said: “You think I am an animal, you’re just an idealist who does not want to be trained”. I couldn’t stop crying so he sent me out of the room.” (WRP Control Commission report by Norman Harding and Larry Kavanagh on Healy’s sexual and physical abuses).

The Wapping dispute was in full flight in the Summer of 1986 and we all attended the nightly pickets regularly. On one occasion we encountered a scab TNT truck on the Euston Road as we drove back. Words were passed but unfortunately we could not escape the truck driver who took several opportunities to menace us in the traffic. We were quite frightened but made it back to Kilburn Square and the Cock tavern for a pint. As we stood at the door of the pub another TNT  truck passed and Maggie howled “scab” and let her pint fly at the side of the truck. She had not seen the policeman by her side who immediately accosted her but eventually let her off with a warning.

The birth of out two children in 1987 and 1990 took her out of permanent employment for a time but she began working full time again by 2000 for First Great Western, first as a customer host and then as a travelling chef. She was an RMT shop steward for Paddington No. 1 branch on a number of occasions. At the funeral a workplace colleague paid tribute to her unyielding defence of women with family care responsibilities, fighting for flexible shifts from them etc. something which all employers seek to avoid.

Lastly I include this tribute to her from MK in Ireland which I read out at the funeral and which captures her spirit exactly: “Gerry, words fail me at this time.  I am so deeply saddened at Maggie’s passing.  I find it hard to believe that the redoubtable Maggie is no longer with us.  For me, there are some people that life’s circumstances bring together for a time, and there are some who for whatever reason become like family to you.  In that sense Maggie was like extended family for me, and like so many others I will miss her all the more.  I always thought of Gerry and Maggie, two outstanding individuals in their own right, perhaps to some, an unlikely couple, but ipso facto all the more dynamic.  But Maggie has given everyone who ever knew her such lasting memories, I have mine and I will always treasure them.  She was a great spirit, an understanding friend and comrade, whose modesty and big personality sometimes concealed a sharp intellect.  And for these reasons I do believe the world is a lesser place without our Maggie.

However again, my words feel so inadequate when I wish to express my sincerest condolences to you Gerry and the children, who I only knew as babies.  And to Laurence, Maggie’s brother who I knew and was a good friend to me in London.  My thoughts are with you, in friendship and comradeship, and in hope for the socialist future that Maggie and all of us aspire to.  Unfortunately there are too many circumstances preventing me from being with you when you celebrate Maggie’s lifetime of struggle, but you can be sure I’ll be there in spirit.

Again my kindest condolences and best regards. 
As always.  Beir Bua…….Mick. K.”

One thought on “Maggie Smith 18 April 1962— 29 June 2013 By Gerry Downing

  1. Marcel Souzain says:

    Dear Gerry,

    Whatever our political differences are, I wish to express my sincerest condolences for the loss of your partner Maggie. I also think of the children who have now no mother. I wish you all strength and hope that the fond memories you all have may bring a little comfort.

    Marcel Souzain


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