Obituary: Sir Cyril Smith
Date published: 03 September 2010
Sir Cyril Smith was educated at Rochdale Grammar School for boys. The Grammar School student first joined the Liberal Party in 1945 and was a member of the National Executive Committee of the Young Liberals from 1948-1949.
During the 1950s Sir Cyril crossed over to the Labour party and oversaw the introduction of comprehensive education. He rejoined the Liberal Party in 1968.
Sir Cyril won the seat of Rochdale at a by-election in 1972, and won on a further five occasions serving Rochdale constituency for 20 years before retiring in 1992.
During his time in Parliament, the Liberal Democrats appointed Sir Cyril to be Chief Whip.
He was elected mayor of Rochdale in 1966 and later that year was honoured as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
In 1988, Sir Cyril was awarded a knighthood, later in his life this would cause great commotion.
Sir Cyril Smith was extremely obese for most of his life, and is perhaps the heaviest MP in British political history. He had a larger-than-life personality and was affectionately known as ‘Big Cyril’, consequently the name of his autobiography.
His time in Parliament gained publicity for the Rochdale.
‘Big Cyril’ was graceful when remarks about his weight were made, like the infamous joke about the Lib Dems filling one taxi, but now they could fill two.
He celebrated his 80th birthday with a Charity Gala Concert. At the party, Sir Cyril said: “I wasn’t going to organise a party but was talked into it by Paul [Rowen]. I am looking forward to meeting friends old and new at our beautiful Town Hall, where I have spent many of my happiest times.”
Sir Cyril's political career was not free of controversy, there was a national outcry when the former MP’s affiliation with what was the world's largest asbestos factory, Turner Borther's Asbestos (TBA) was revealed; there were suggestions of his knighthood being stripped. His response was clear, Sir Cyril said: “I must make it clear that I always put the jobs of Rochdale folk first. At the time, people knew of the risks of working at the site. A small minority were affected, that’s not that I didn’t do everything I could to help. Like any industrial job at the time, there were risks”.
He continued: “I am thick skinned after a life in politics and this is a rather clumsy attempt to smear my name.”
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