Wales politics

Losing Rhodri Morgan an aching loss, says widow Julie

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Media captionHe had a wonderful life and enjoyed every minute, says Julie Morgan

Julie Morgan has spoken about the death of her husband, former first minister Rhodri Morgan, who died last week.

Speaking in the Senedd chamber during tributes to 77-year-old Mr Morgan, she told fellow AMs: "He loved this place."

Mrs Morgan, who is AM for Cardiff North, added: "Losing Rhodri is a terrible personal blow to me and to the family... It is an aching loss."

Later the assembly confirmed Mr Morgan's funeral would be held in the Senedd on 31 May.

Former AM Lorraine Barrett, now a humanist celebrant, will conduct the public ceremony, which will begin at 11:00 BST.

A service of committal will be held at the Wenallt chapel, Thornhill Crematorium, the following day on 1 June at 14:00, and the assembly said all are welcome.

Mrs Morgan watched colleagues deliver praise for the former Welsh Labour leader from her seat in the Senedd chamber on Tuesday as other family members looked on from the public gallery.

"We've had, I would say, a roller coaster sort of life," Mrs Morgan said. "It's been rosettes, rosettes all the way."

"He had a wonderful life and he enjoyed every minute," she added, to the applause of her colleagues.

The tributes the family had received from all over Wales "had been a huge comfort", she said.

Image caption Carwyn Jones took over from Mr Morgan as first minister in 2009

Rhodri Morgan's successor, Carwyn Jones, told AMs: "Last week we lost one of our nation's giants.

"He may be gone, but his name is written into our history."

Mr Jones was speaking after making a statement on Monday night's Manchester Arena suicide attack, which left 22 people dead.

To an emotional Senedd chamber, the first minister said Mr Morgan had "served with distinction" as first minister for nearly 10 years.

"He was somebody who commanded such respect but, of course, he was somebody who was down to earth," the Welsh Labour leader said.

"No ceremony, no airs and graces."

Mr Jones described Rhodri Morgan as a "hugely intelligent man with a fine mind" but who was "at home with anybody".

"He was a great mixer and a great character and he will be missed by his family, of course, but so many people around Wales and beyond," he said.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: "He was a man who had a willingness to want to know, a thirst to understand and above all he was a genuine, decent and upright individual."

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Media captionWelsh Assembly members pay tribute to Rhodri Morgan

Referring to Mr Morgan's role after the turbulent first nine months of the Welsh Assembly, Mr Davies added: "We as a country owe him a great debt of gratitude for the way... he stabilised the ship, along with others, when this institution's future wasn't secure and there was a huge question mark.

"We are fortunate that he was there, at the helm, working with others, making sure that devolution did turn into a permanent part of our democracy".

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said Mr Morgan well deserved to be called a "man of the people".

"He was always willing to engage, he was quick thinking. He was a real character and he was a patriot," she said.

His mantra was to do things differently in a "unique Welsh way", Mr Wood said.

"Without Rhodri Morgan Wales wouldn't be the country it is today," she added.

Image copyright Wales news service
Image caption Julie Morgan shared her late husband's love of politics

UKIP group leader and a former MP Neil Hamilton said he was in the House of Commons with Mr Morgan from 1987 to 1997.

"I warmed to him because it was immediately clear that whilst fiercely loyal to his own party he was always going to be his own man and a fully paid up member of the awkward squad," he said.

"As a selfless public servant he was universally respected across the political spectrum and loved as the warmest of human beings by legions of people he encountered in all walks of life."

He called him one of "the most admirable men I've had the pleasure to know".

'He stood taller'

In an emotional speech Liberal Democrat AM Kirsty Williams said Mr Morgan "stood out, and he stood taller than us... as a politician, as a leader, as a father figure and friend to those of us from the class of '99 and in the communities across Wales,".

"When my mother passed away he wrote not only to me but to my late father.

"My father couldn't believe that the first minister of Wales had taken the time to write to him about his loss," she told the Senedd, fighting tears.

Image caption Kirsty Williams said Rhodri Morgan took the time to write to her father when her mother died

Presiding Officer Elin Jones said Cardiff Bay would "never see the like of Rhodri Morgan again".

"For those of us who have served here since 1999, we will not forget his courage and boldness in creating and leading the Welsh Government.

"Rhodri ploughed his own furrow, and did so in order to do what he believed was best for this nation."

Former presiding officer Dafydd Elis Thomas told the chamber that he was "delighted that we are to celebrate his passing in this place, appropriately in this building next week".

"It's the building of the people of Wales," he said, adding: "Rhodri Morgan built the politics that made it possible."

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