It’s unclear whether her current illness is related to the brain tumor she was diagnosed with while serving in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s.
British newspapers quoted a friend, the Labor MP Alice Mahon, as saying that Mowlam has been quite frail for some time.
“I spoke to someone who saw her recently and they said, ‘She’s not terribly well, not the old Mo,'” Mahon said.
Mowlam’s personal charisma and unorthodox style made her Britain’s most popular politician during her 5-year cabinet career.
Sometimes in the course of negotiations in Northern Ireland, she kicked off her shoes, chewed gum and even took off the wig that she wore because of her cancer treatment.
If her “touchy-feely” and often informal approach irritated some unionist politicians, it helped win the confidence of republicans who’d been distrustful of British intentions. (She reportedly called Martin McGuinness “babe” during a telephone conversation.) But Mowlam is perhaps best known for the political risk she took in entering the Maze prison to talk to loyalist prisoners when they withdrew their support from the peace process.
A short time after her 60-minute face-to-face discussion with the prisoners, political representatives of the UDA and UVF announced they would rejoin the talks.
Majorie Mowlam almost succumbed to pneumonia three months after her birth in Watford in 1949. The family, which was perennially short of money because of her father’s alcoholism, moved to Coventry, where she was raised. After high school in the Comprehensive state system created by post-war era Labor governments, she studied at Durham and Iowa universities. She then had careers in university administration and teaching.
In a last-minute draft, Mowlam ran for the Labor Party in Redcar at the 1987 general election and won. She represented that constituency until her retirement from politics in 2001. She was appointed to the Northern Ireland post when Labor was swept to power in 1997. In 1999, she was appointed to the Cabinet Office, which was widely seen as a demotion.
Some commentators suggested that Prime Minister Tony Blair felt threatened by the popular Mowlam. She herself was somewhat embittered by what she said was a “nasty” whispering campaign against her by government spin-doctors hinting that she “wasn’t up to the job” because of her illness.
Mowlam and her husband, former merchant banker Jon Norton, moved to Kent after she left politics.
In her 2002 autobiography, “Momentum,” she wrote: ‘I always looked on the bright side.
“I am of the view that you are dealt cards in your life and you make the best of what you are given,” she said.