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Chief Minister Address to Parliament – Tributes

The Chief Minister opened this afternoon’s Parliament session with tributes to Lady Hassan and Claire Borrell.

Mr Picardo said:

Mr Speaker

I rise today with a heavy heart to start the proceedings with various condolences.

The first to the clerk upon the death of his well known and well liked father Charlie.

Mr Speaker since the last session the community has learnt of the death of two of our most prominent and strongest women, Lady Marcelle Hassan and Claire Borrell.

I know the whole House will wish to make tributes to both and will want to do so separately to give each their due.

1. Lady Hassan

I will start with Lady Hassan.

Marcelle Bensimon was not a native Gibraltarian.

But she became one.

She arrived in Gibraltar from her native Morocco to work for a worthy and charitable purpose.

She was here to help Jewish immigrants using Gibraltar as a staging post in transit to the state of Israel.

Having been married to Sir Joshua in 1969, she experienced with him his only, short lived, election loss and his subsequent four consecutive election wins.

As the spouse of Chief Minister Hassan, Lady Hassan carried the burden of being in the public eye at an immensely difficult time.

For the lion's share of that time, the frontier was closed.

Let us not forget how hard those days were.

Every day would have been a struggle to maintain supplies and and a working economy, of course.

More than that, every day there would have been one mission.

To maintain morale in the community.

She was the non-political focal point for many in that respect.

She was also the ray of glamour in that period that so many looked at, as well as being a close political advisor to Sir Joshua and the AACR team.

And whilst he was Chief Minister, Lady Hassan bore Sir Joshua two daughters, both of them following him into public life.

The youngest, Marlene, is well known in this place in her own right as an Honourable Member.

The eldest, Fleur, is Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and does not fail to evangelize her Gibraltarian origins whether in Israel or elsewhere.

I know Lady Hassan was more than proud of her daughters and their own contributions to public life in different jurisdictions of such importance to her.

A personal reflection, Mr Speaker.
I remember Lady Hassan telling me not to get into politics.
She told me, for my good, she said, that no one would thank me for anything.

When I did take the first steps into politics, she took me to one side in the lift at the law firm that bears her late husband's illustrious name and said ‘now don't cower when they criticise you, do what you think is right and do what you have to do. That is what my husband did’.

Both pieces of advice she gave me were good pieces of advice.

Having failed to follow the first, it was clear I had to follow the second.

Because it was equally clear that it was advice given from the heart to ‘el hijo de Magda’.

My mother in particular was an admirer of Lady Hassan's style.

My mother had been Sir Joshua's secretary when they married and I recall the warmth between them.

Mr Speaker, the pressures on the spouses of those at the top of the political hierarchy are often overlooked.

At least those of us who are in the political arena are here because we choose to be

Those who accompany us - our children, our spouses or partners – are, in effect, volunteered for the post by us.

Theirs is the part that is often as hard as ours.
And, no doubt, Lady Hassan carried that burden lightly.

In her time Lady Hassan represented us on Royal Visits, including the visit of the next monarch, Prince Charles.

Innumerable ceremonial functions.

Innumerable local events.

And for 16 years she was at the very top of the representation of our people alongside Sir Joshua.

Mr Speaker, I recall a photograph of Sir Joshua, Lady Hassan and Joe Garcia Snr with Mrs Garcia being feted together at the Marbella Club, just after the frontier opened.

It is an illustration, after the end of the last siege of Gibraltar of Gibraltar's success in surmounting that challenge under Sir Joshua's leadership, with Marcelle at this side.

Mr Speaker Lady Hassan come from beyond our shores. But she became one of us.
She is now buried amongst us
And will forever remain with us.

May she rest in peace.

I extend the condolences of the whole of Gibraltar and the whole House to her daughters and grandchildren.

Marlene Hassan, who is a member of this House, has asked that, as Leader of the House, I should extend her apologies to the people of Gibraltar for her absence today and from this session.

I have no doubt we all agree that she should absent herself this session and we support that she tend to her family at his time and address together with them the pain of this sad bereavement.

After tributes from others, I will invite the House to observe a minute's silence in honour of Lady Hassan’s memory.

2. ClaireBorrell

The sad news has also reached us that women’s champion Claire Borrell passed away this weekend. Mrs Borrell was the force behind the creation of the charity ‘Women in Need’.
And she was a force.

I remember working with Claire both in the law, in opposition and in Government and I can tell the House that there was little chance of not giving Claire the support she might be seeking from time to time.

She was a person who had suffered marital abuse.

She stood up to it in a society when such things were still taboo.

She took a stand for her children and for herself.

In doing so, she was, in fact, taking a stand for all women.

She really did trailblaze in this area and her work helped hundreds to free themselves from similarly abusive relationships.

And Claire made us talk about these uncomfortable truths and realities that had lain hidden in our community.

The fact is that those issues have not gone away, even if they are no longer hidden away.

In the last years she was working in Women in Need she was also providing some services to men who were abused and found themselves downtrodden.

I enjoyed working with Claire. She was not a do-gooder.

She was a go getter who wanted not to give people charity, but help to get on their feet and move on to a better place.

And, Mr Speaker, I confess, she also had a wicked sense of humour and there was not one time we met when she did not tell me off and make me laugh, especially when she broke off into her heavily accented Spanish.

Mr Speaker, Claire Borrell House is a fitting tribute to the work of this magnificent pioneer who was recognised by Her Majesty the Queen with an MBE.

The condolences of all of Gibraltar, in particular on behalf of all those she helped, go to her children, Amanda, Jonathan and Theresa.

None will have suffered this loss like they have, but we will all mourn the loss of Claire.

Again, Mr Speaker, after tributes from others, I will invite the House to observe a minute's silence in honour of her memory.

3. Armed Forces Week

Finally, Mr Speaker, this week is Armed Forces Week.

The whole of Gibraltar will want to join in wishing all members of the British Armed Forces all the very best for the week and for Saturday, which is Armed Forces Day.

The British Armed Forces are amongst the best in the world and the most professional.

Our own Royal Gibraltar Regiment are a part of the British Armed Forces and today the Speaker of the House of Commons wore the regimental tie during Prime Minister’s Questions there, as I do in this House.

Our Armed Forces are the best of us. We thank them for what they do.