Two days before Christmas I heard the dreadful news that my friend Vicki Harris had died.
Vicki was just 41 when she died, of skin cancer. I knew her through being a fellow Lib Dem candidate; we met on training courses in the run-up to 2005, and hit it off right away. We were buddies, phoning and emailing each other to seek comfort or advice when the campaign got stressful, and even joked that we’d share our Westminster office. Vicki fought Aberdeen South in the 2005 election and like me in Islington South, slashed Labour’s majority and narrowly missed out on getting elected.
Vicki’s great warmth and humour, combined with calm good sense and a totally rational approach to crises, made her a wonderful ‘buddy’. When too close to problems myself, I could always turn to Vicki for good advice – on everything from dealing with difficult people to clothes for big events. I was working in Potters Bar for part of the time, and although Vicki never went there, I will always associate the local sandwich bar with her, as it was the backdrop to many of our lunchtime phone chats. Vicki was particularly supportive in 2006 when I was unemployed, and we helped each other through re-selection in our seats.
Although we usually met at party events, we enjoyed trips round the latest exhibitions when Vicki was visiting her mum in Ealing. We compared proud notes on our younger brothers – Vicki’s brother Ian is a successful actor – and our wonderful partners. Mark, Vicki’s partner, was a true rock, even serving as her election agent. Touchingly, they got married at her bedside.
For personal reasons, she stood down as PPC – with typical calm once the difficult decision was taken; and threw herself into other activities, including volunteering with the Red Cross, as well as mentoring other women candidates. In the last year she was enjoying a new phase of life, which shows how much more she had to give. I shall miss Vicki so much – although we had not seen each other for a while, it was so good to know she was there.
Last Monday I went up to Aberdeen for Vicki’s funeral – a long day, flying up and back from Luton, but so very glad I went. Aberdeen looked beautiful with sun, snow and glinting granite. Katy Gordon and I went along together, and found Aberdeen’s West Crematorium chapel packed out, with a mix of Scottish MPs and MSPs, musicians, hill walkers, as well as large numbers of family and friends.
It was a humanist funeral, very simple and dignified, with moving and humourous tributes to Vicki from Ian and Mark. There were no songs, but they played parts of Mozart’s Oboe quartet (Vicki was an accomplished oboeist) and the Pastoral symphony (reflecting her love of the outdoors), during which those of us with a faith were invited to pray.
Often at funerals you learn things about the person you are mourning that you never knew: Ian highlighted Vicki’s love of snow. It suddenly make the unusual snow we’d had in London that morning seem very appropriate.
Afterwards at the wake there was a big display of photos of Vicki and a book of remembrance. We met so many very different people who all loved Vicki.
This weekend Katy and I are off to yet another candidates’ training event. Vicki, we miss you.