My great, gentle father, friend of popes, princes… and pop stars: As ex-MoS writer William Rees-Mogg dies at 84, his MP son pays tribute
02:35 GMT, 30 December 2012
David Cameron last night led the tributes to Fleet Street legend William Rees-Mogg, who has died at 84 after a short illness. Lord Rees-Mogg edited The Times from 1967 to 1981, earning fame for his ‘Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel’ editorial condemning a jail term handed to Mick Jagger for drugs offences in 1967. He later wrote a column for The Mail on Sunday. He was also chairman of the Arts Council.
Last night, Peter Wright, former Editor of The Mail on Sunday, said: ‘For nearly a decade, talking to William about his columns was one of the highlights of my week. His breadth of knowledge was astonishing – not only did he know all the leading politicians from the Fifties onwards, he was also the only man brave enough ever to attempt to explain Kondratiev Wave Theory to readers of The Mail on Sunday. His intelligence and charm will be missed by all who worked with him.'
Lord Rees-Mogg has an impressive set of achievements from his 60-year journalistic career
Lord Rees-Mogg with a copy of The Times, left, which he edited from 1967 to 1981, and right he is pictured at the British Broadcasting Council in 1993
It is, no doubt, immodest to view my own father as a great man but I know that he was. The list of his achievements in his 60-year journalistic career is impressive. He knew every Prime Minister from Eden to Cameron, and shortly before his death he interviewed the leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband.
He met popes, presidents, princes and even pop stars. Most famously, he supported The Rolling Stones against harsh sentences for drug use. He had a tendency to like the people he met – including Silvio Berlusconi, of all people – and found himself sympathising with their position even if it was far from his own.
This charming habit showed his fundamental goodwill even if we sometimes teased him for it.
Lord Rees-Mogg pictured with Rolling Stones star Mick Jagger in 1967
Brian Connell, left, and William Rees-Mogg, right, are pictured during the 'The Brian Connell Interview' which was broadcast in the 1970s
As editor of The Times, he concentrated on the paper’s leader columns and became a cheerleader for monetarism in the Seventies and Eighties during the Thatcher government. My father was a friend of Margaret Thatcher since they were at Oxford University together.
His reputation as a wordsmith who could produce long and elegant articles was unsurpassed. The bulk of his career was spent with The Times but he was particularly pleased, aged 75, to get a new job as a Mail on Sunday columnist.
Ever the traditionalist, my father never used a typewriter but handwrote his columns and then dictated them to copytakers. In public life, he held a plethora of distinguished jobs at the BBC, the Arts Council and as a non-executive director.
Lord Rees-Mogg, pictured left outside London's High Court and right at his home in Pall Mall, was described as a 'great man'
This work led to him receiving a peerage, which in the past two-and-a-half years allowed us to meet in one or other of the two Houses of Parliament for tea.
His family was central to his life. Although very busy, he turned up to childhood events. He was always in the audience at my school plays, and he encouraged all his children in whatever they wanted to be.
In the last week of his life, my mother and their five children were almost constantly at his bedside, with many of his grandchildren around too.
My father never lectured us or thought his views better because he had discussed them with some powerful figure. He viewed his children and grandchildren as serious individuals from the earliest age.
He also had an inspirational faith, which helped him approach death without fear. He believed in the teachings of the Catholic Church and had been not only ready but inquisitive about meeting his Maker for many years.
He had no doubt that the world to come will be better than this one and wrote in his book, An Humbler Heaven, of his feeling that time was a false constraint against eternity.
Some years ago, I was discussing with one of my sisters if we would ever know as much as our father did. We concluded that we never could.
His greatness was in his gentleness, his enthusiasm and his spiritual completeness more than in having known almost everyone who was anyone for 60 years.
May he rest in peace.