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Glenys Kinnock: politician, campaigner, and inspiration to many

<span>Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

The campaigner and politician Glenys Kinnock, who died on Sunday with Alzheimer’s disease, was born into an activist family in 1944.

Her parents – Cyril Parry, a trade unionist and railway signalman, and Doris Evans – were credited with instilling in their daughter a strong sense of social justice and a love of Wales. She was born in Northamptonshire, but soon afterwards the family moved back to their native Holyhead, where Glenys learned to speak Welsh.

She studied education and history at University College, Cardiff, where she met Neil Kinnock. “Are you the man from the Socialist society?” were said to be her first words to him.

They were married in 1967. It marked the start of a political partnership that helped transform the image of the Labour party in the 1980s.

Glenys Kinnock was often regarded as more radical than her husband and is thought to have caused him to delay ditching Labour’s commitment to nuclear disarmament.

She was also a prominent politician and campaigner in her own right. She served as a member of the European parliament for 15 years after being first elected for Wales South-east in 1994 with a record majority.

In 2009 she was appointed minister for Europe by Gordon Brown, who also made her a life peer. Brown said: “All who met Glenys admired her for her generosity, her warmth and her passionate support for the best of national and international causes.

“She was a highly effective and popular minister for Europe in the last Labour government and I was delighted to have persuaded her to become a member of the government.”

Kinnock inspired many people to enter politics, including the Green MP Caroline Lucas, who lobbied her as an MEP while working at Oxfam. In 2016, Lucas told the Guardian Kinnock was someone she respected “hugely for her work on trade policy to help people in poorer countries. I saw her on the other side of the desk and I thought: ‘I really want to be her, I want to be on that side of the desk.’”

Kinnock campaigned on a range of global issues, including against nuclear weapons, the apartheid regime in South Africa, and international debt. In 1989 she helped found the development charity One World Action. Among other causes she campaigned against the military junta in Myanmar and for the victims of torture.

Kinnock wrote extensively for the Guardian on international development, including an article with the late Jo Cox on International Women’s Day. In her last piece in 2016 she called for airdrops to cities besieged in the Syrian civil war.

She was a passionate European and was said to be devastated by the Brexit vote.

Writing on X, Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s director of communications, said: “Glenys would understand that many will remember her as part of that remarkable couple. But she was a formidable political force in her own right. Mandela no less adored her.

“She was a committed MEP heartbroken by Brexit and a brilliant minister for Europe, Africa and the UN. Many people in many parts of the world will be very sad today. A bright and beautiful light has gone out, leaving the world a sadder place, but those who knew her with so many memories of a great woman.”

She is survived by her husband of 56 years, who was with her in her final moments, and her children Stephen and Rachel. She was described in a family tribute as “an adored grandmother”.