Tributes paid to former First Minister Rhodri Morgan

By Twm Owen in Local People

Tributes have been paid to the former First Minister of Wales Rhodri Morgan who has died.

The former Labour leader, who led the Welsh Assembly from 2000 to 2009, was credited with giving the fledgling body credibility and establishing it as a national institution after a rocky start.

His successor Carwyn Jones said Wales had lost a "father figure".

A minute’s silence has been held at Powys County Hall where councillors are attending the authority’s annual general meeting and will elect a new council leader.

Kirsty Williams said she would remember Rhodri Morgan as a "thoroughly decent human being".

The Liberal Democrat AM for Brecon and Radnorshire was elected to the first Assembly alongside Mr Morgan in 1999. In late 2000 Mr Morgan invited the Lib Dems into coalition with his minority Labour administration though Ms Williams remained a back bencher.

She said: "Lots of people in the forthcoming days will talk about his political ability and impact on Welsh political life and role in securing devolution.

"He played a significant role in securing the Assembly after it started off very shakily but I will remember him most for being a thoroughly decent human being who was interesting, witty and very clever and throughly decent in how he did his politics and how he worked."

Ms Williams said she also remembered Mr Morgan for his vast knowledge of Wales.

"I remember once asking him a question during First Minister’s Questions about Cwmtwrch and he went on to tell a big joke, the punchline was wether it was Lower or Upper Cwmtwrch."

First Minister Mr Jones said: "Wales hasn’t just lost a great politician, we’ve lost a real father figure. In very many ways Rhodri wasn’t like other politicians, and that is why people warmed to him, trusted him and felt like they knew him so well. He was funny, clever, engaging on almost any topic and absolutely passionate about all things Welsh.

"I owe him a great deal, just as we all do in Wales. He did so much to fight for, and then establish devolution in the hearts and minds of the public in our country. His bright confidence was infectious, and we can see much of Rhodri’s can-do attitude in our modern Wales. That first decade of self-governance, and making distinct choices for Wales will forever be associated with his leadership.

"He will be hugely missed, and my thoughts are with Julie and all the family at this sad time."

Mr Morgan, who had been an MP for Cardiff West from 1987 to 2001, served the same constituency in the Welsh Assembly from when it was established in 1999 until his retirement in 2011. He was married to the current AM for Cardiff North Julie Morgan.

Labour’s Brecon and Radnorshire candidate Dan Lodge said: "Rhodri Morgan was one of my inspirations. Rhodri rose above party politics and was the father of devolution. His anecdotes were legendary, we loved them so much and knew them so well. My thoughts are with Julie and his family."

Labour’s Mid and West Wales AM Joyce Watson said: "Rhodri was a joy to campaign with. On the doorstep, he was one of those rare politicians that always drew a smile, never a groan. He knew every village in Wales and everybody he met warmed to him instantly.

"When I was elected to the Assembly in 2007 I got to know the other Rhodri Morgan, the skilful politician whose intelligence and leadership helped cement the foundations of our young democracy – that’s his legacy."

Conservative Glyn Davies, who was a Mid and West Wales AM from 1999 to 2003, also paid tribute to Mr Morgan who succeeded Alun Michael, who also represented Mid and West Wales, as the leader of the Assembly in a row over UK government match funding for European funding.

Mr Michael had been Tony Blair’s choice for Labour leader in Wales but AMs moved to oust him via a vote of no confidence. That paved the way for Mr Morgan, who was seen across the Assembly as a more charismatic and able leader, to replace him as First Secretary.

Mr Davies, who has been the MP for Montgomeryshire since 2010, said: "Rhodri Morgan was a star performer, who brought leadership, stability and colour to the National Assembly for Wales at a time when leadership, stability and colour were needed.

"Rhodri, because that’s how he was universally known, was an unusual leader, hugely knowledgeable, cunning as a fox and universally liked, with a truly astonishing memory. He was a proper grown up politician who helped the National Assembly grow up.

"At times Rhodri looked uncomfortable with the trappings of leadership. He was a man who preferred to be on the terraces than in the royal box. He liked debate and liked to mix it with those of us who opposed him. I was quite proud to have wound him up a few times, which he always took in good heart.

"He was a top man, who did Wales proud, and deserves to be honoured and remembered as one of our great leaders."

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, who lived near to Mr Morgan in the Vale of Glamorgan, said: "Rhodri Morgan was a giant of devolved politics in Wales who served a hugely important role in stabilising the National Assembly during its formative years.

“As First Minister, his answers in the chamber were always worthy of attention and his encyclopedic knowledge across his brief ensured he was rarely wrong-footed.

“Our first meeting was not in the political arena but came after Rhodri was forced to barricade his garden late on an autumn Sunday evening after some of my cattle had misbehaved and wandered into the Morgans’ – he was undoubtedly one of life’s true characters.

"And while politically we didn’t see eye to eye, there is no question that he was held in high regard right across the political spectrum and he will be missed by all who knew him."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mark Williams said: "Rhodri Morgan will be remembered for leading Wales in those early years, putting Welsh politics on an even footing. In what was a difficult early period for devolution, Rhodri built a coalition to deliver on the promise of devolution.

"He will be remembered as an extremely charismatic and engaging leader, and the kind words we have heard from so many today show the enormous respect and admiration for Rhodri.

’Rhodri will be hugely missed and my thoughts are with family and friends at this difficult time."

Campaigning in the general election has been suspended in Wales today.

Mr Morgan is survived by his wife, Julie, two daughters and a son.