It was with great sadness that we learned, this morning, of the passing of Harry Leslie Smith. York Labour would like to extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends, he will live on in the hearts and minds of all of us in the Labour movement.
Harry was due to speak at our 70th anniversary celebration of the NHS earlier this year, but sadly poor health prevented him from travelling from Canada. He nevertheless sent a personal message to the gathering which left all those in the room spellbound. A great man, and a true left-wing firebrand to the very end, Harry never stopped fighting for the better world he believed in.
Tributes have been flooding in, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying: “he was one of the giants whose shoulders we all stand on.” Deputy leader Tom Watson added: “The world is a far better place for his life, words and deeds; and a far sadder place with his loss.”
Harry passed away in hospital in Ontario with his son John at his side, as he has been for the last several days while Harry fought for his life. He is believed to have died from complications of pneumonia. John announced his death on twitter with the words “At 3.39 this morning, my dad Harry Leslie Smith died. I am an orphan.” In a later tweet he swore to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue his legacy.
Born in Barnsley in 1923, the son of a miner who became unemployed due to ill health, Harry lived through the great depression and lost his sister Marion to tuberculosis because his family couldn’t afford treatment. It was something that stayed with him throughout his life and contributed to his becoming a tireless advocate for the NHS.
He later joined the RAF and spent the last months of the war and much of the postwar reconstruction period in Germany, where he met his wife Friede, and the couple later returned to Yorkshire before relocating to Canada. After Friede’s death in 1999, he began to write and several of his books, including Harry’s Last Stand and Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future, have become bestsellers. He came particularly to prominence after a barnstorming speech at the 2014 Labour Conference in Manchester.
In his final years Harry had continued to write, continued to agitate for a better future, for the NHS and for refugees, and had built up a twitter following of more than a quarter of a million. A true hero of the Labour movement, we can say with confidence that he will not be forgotten, and that his words will continue to inspire in the years to come.