This morning, I attended the memorial service for my friend and fellow Croydon MP Malcolm Wicks at Croydon Minster.
These occasions always provoke a mix of emotions: a sense of loss (and in my case painful memories of my father's funeral seven and a half years ago), a reminder of our own mortality but also happy memories and surprise at learning new things about the person you thought you knew pretty well.
A good eulogy and/or the right tone from the person conducting the service helps and this was a wonderful service. As usual, Canon Colin Boswell struck exactly the right note (why oh why he hasn't been given a more senior role in the Church of England is beyond me, but the Church's loss is Croydon's gain). He acknowledged at the start that Malcolm wasn't a religious man, at least in the traditional sense of the word, though he was an intensely moral one. He told the congregation that when Malcolm had approached him to ask if it would be possible to have a memorial service at the Minster after he died, he had been characteristically honest about his lack of faith. Colin said that he told him it wasn't a problem because "this is the Church of England".
There were moving tributes from Frank Field MP, Cllr Alisa Fleming (who worked for Malcolm in his constituency office) and his friend Tony Hall. The latter in particular was absolutely brilliant. I have delivered a eulogy twice - once at my father's funeral and once at the funeral of a work colleague. It is such a hard thing to do, particularly when you aren't a family member - you want to make people smile but you don't want to be too light-hearted. I have never seen anyone do it better than Tony did today.
And the Minster was absolutely packed. It was great to see senior Parliamentarians there like the Speaker John Bercow, Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, David Blunkett, Alan Johnson, Tessa Jowell and many other Labour MPs there as well as the great and good of Croydon. I hope Malcolm's family and those in Croydon Labour Party who knew him longest and worked with him most closely drew some comfort from the range and number of people there. It was a fitting tribute to a life well lived.
Attention will now turn to the by-election - and Malcolm wouldn't have had it any other way because he believed that politics can be a force for good - but whoever wins will have a very hard act to follow.
A final thought: it was good for the town that so many of the great and the good came to Croydon today. They say Croydon for what it is - a diverse but strong community that is struggling to reverse its decline. I overheard several remark that they didn't know Croydon had a Minster - but just a few yards away they also saw the site where the House of Reeves used to stand. They might not have seen these things. Malcolm Wicks was a national figure, a privy councillor, a long-serving Minister in a number of Government departments, a respected Parliamentarian. He could have chosen to have this service in Westminster but he chose to have it here, where he lived, where he served. And that tells you something else important about him too.
Rest in peace my friend.