The gracious and courteous Grace Thomson once commented when her husband was in Brussels as one of Britain’s first two European Community commissioners: “I married the editor of the Beano; now here I am hosting Europe’s movers and shakers.”
She could have added to her husband’s other journalistic achievements that he had also been editor of both the Dandy and Forward – the Scottish Labour newspaper, now defunct.
Grace Thomson did much to further her husband’s career. Not only was she popular across the political divide, but, in the many political posts he held, Grace built up a bond of friendship and trust with colleagues and their wives.
George Thomson, for example, held important posts in the Foreign Office and acted as secretary of state for commonwealth affairs, chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (1981-88) and Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University (1977-91).
Those were all appointments where diplomacy and tact were vital and Grace helped to create a convivial atmosphere at meetings, conferences and parties. She had the delightful ability to ensure everyone was at ease and relaxed.
Grace Thomson was a cordial and welcoming hostess and proved an immense support for her husband throughout his distinguished career.
It was her husband’s time in Brussels that probably were her most demanding years. Throughout his career, he had championed the then EEC but from 1973 to 1977 he was keen to see it expand and argued vociferously that the best service Britain could do the Commonwealth was to make a success of European membership.
While he was a commissioner, the Thomsons were a relaxed couple at official functions – they upset some traditionalists of EEC etiquette by serving drinks themselves at parties and insisting that officials called them George and Grace. She was also an impressive linguist, which proved invaluable at many EEC events. Her ability to speak with ease in French, German and Italian ensured she built up many close friendships in Brussels.
Grace Jenkins was born in the Townhead area in Glasgow. Her father was a committed socialist and an active member of the National Union of Railwaymen who had taken part in the 1926 General Strike. Grace was educated at Grove Academy, Broughty Ferry, and became the sweetheart of a fellow pupil George Thomson.
Throughout his days serving with the RAF in the war and then in the years after he returned to work in DC Thomson on the comics and as a reporter on local news for the Courier, the two remained strongly attached – marrying in 1948.
Despite leaving school at 15, because her father found it difficult to find work, Grace, while working as a clerk in Dundee, also attended night classes to pass her Highers. By the end of the war she had also gained a teaching diploma from Jordanhill College, now part of the University of Strathclyde.
In the 20 years when her husband was MP for Dundee East, after winning a by-election in 1952, she proved a resilient and purposeful politician. Local politics in the area was often controversial and Grace had the political foresight and the charisma to act as an ideal constituency wife while her husband climbed the political ladder at Westminster.
She was a familiar face around the city and proved an influential factor when, during a turbulent local situation, another MP tried to unseat her husband. Grace proved well up to any assault on George’s reputation and acted instinctively, displaying both a sound political judgment and maintaining the confidence of local Labour Party members.
She remained devoted to her husband’s memory after his death and was as firmly independent as ever and an ardent supporter of many of their cherished projects.
To this end, in 2011 the charitable trust that she and her husband had set up opened a state-of-the-art computing research laboratory and prototyping centre at the University of Abertay in his memory. It is the first university in the world to offer degrees in ethical hacking, and specialises in combating problems such as password security and cyber-crime.
At the opening, Grace commented: “My husband was proud to spend 20 years representing Dundee, his home town, in Parliament. We are thrilled to be able to support Abertay University and the education of the next generation of communicators in his memory.”
Grace Thomson remained devoted to the city of Dundee and its projects – particularly the housing of a branch of the Victoria & Albert Museum in the city. Her own charm, wit and courtesy were much admired in Westminster and Brussels and proved an immense asset in George’s career.
Grace Thomson, whose husband died in 2008, is survived by their two daughters, Caroline, a former chief operating officer of the BBC, and Ailsa, and her three grandchildren.