John Hume, 1937-2020
The marker of a politician is leaving a place better than you found it, and John Hume left the North transformed.
Although the boy from the Bogside went global during the Good Friday Agreement, his heart lay in Derry, and for me, and for thousands of other Derry people, we remember John Hume most for his dedication to his community.
Banks did not lend to the poverty-stricken people of Derry, so John Hume knocked on every door in the Bogside asking people to start a savings account in the credit union he had created with his own money.
During the 1969 election, he called to every house to tell people they had a vote, and should use it, they had a voice now whatever their religion or financial status, a voice that he had fought and was beaten on the sand of Magilligan Beach for.
Entire generations of people in the North can run because John Hume stood.
Like most Derry men, John was headstrong. He wouldn’t be dissuaded from what he saw as a necessity for peace. Politicians and media outlets who pilloried John Hume for facilitating the peace process are today paying tribute to his patriotism. Threats and vitriol became commonplace, from both sides of our tortured community, but John Hume knew that courage was not, not being afraid, but being afraid and doing what you know is right anyway. He knew that a united Ireland, which he so longed for, would have to include all of us, whether London or Dublin liked it or not.
Friends say he would often become depressed at the lack of progress and the state of the conflict. He held it close to heart and took each failure personally. John saw all the potential his people had and knew how great Ireland could be if we could just emerge from the shadow of the past.
He campaigned for a university for Derry and in doing so reminded its people of their worth. He told them they deserved the spoils of peace and the opportunities afforded to people across the Irish Sea or a step over the border. It is no easy feat to raise people up when there has always been a boot on their back.
It was John Hume’s empathy for others that made him so powerful. He understood all the reasons that put guns into the hands of young boys and dedicated his life to removing them. He had looked into the eyes of widows and mothers who had lost their sons and knew Northern Ireland could not continue with each generation becoming more traumatised and divided as the ones who came before.
The best politicians are often accidental ones, and there is no greater example than John Hume.
He viewed himself as a teacher who had seen the blatant discrimination that was foisted on his people, the ghettoisation of his community, and the lack of opportunities for the boys he taught, and was certain it had to change.
He often said that he never saw himself as a leader, but as someone who helped people, standing in stark contrast to those elected officials today who compete for the biggest portfolio and pay packet. He had no ambition to be the Deputy First Minister of the new government that he had dedicated his life to creating.
John Hume was until the end, an ordinary man, an ordinary man who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and who chatted easily with locals in the bar of Greencastle Golf Club as he did with the president of the United States and Nelson Mandela.
One of the cruellest tragedies of John’s death is that the people who loved him, from a student he taught, to the man in the pub, to Bill Clinton, cannot gather in Derry’s cathedral to say goodbye, and fill the streets of John Hume’s Bogside to show his wife and family what he meant to us all.
When John began suffering from dementia, it was never hidden. It was a heartless diagnosis for someone so undeserving. The greatest mind in Northern Irish politics, which had given so much, was giving up. John and his life partner Pat did not keep it from the people of Derry and there was no embarrassment about his illness.
John continued on his long walks around the town, there isn’t a taxi man in Derry who hasn’t delivered John back to Pat, safe and sound, and free of charge.
As he began to deteriorate, the people of Derry, in an unsaid promise, began to look after John. He was often joined on his walks with strangers, who’d walk with him, asking about his health and steering him in the direction of home.
John Hume looked after us, so Derry looked after him. John Hume may be the father of the peace process, but he will always be one of Derry’s greatest sons. Rest in peace, John.
‘I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals, rather than fighting for them, and by viewing each and every person as worthy of respect and honour.’
John Hume overlooks the Bogside neighbourhood in Derry in 1970. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and architect of the Good Friday Agreement died yesterday, aged 83.
John Hume with his wife Pat after his election to the European Parliament in 1979.