Tom Megahy

TOM Megahy, a Scotsman who settled in Mirfield, near Huddersfield, was MEP for Yorkshire South West for 20 years and twice its vice-president.

A humanitarian and lifelong Socialist, he contracted polio when he was 28 years old but he never allowed the disabilities with which it left him to curb his activism.

Mr Megahy, who has died aged 79, was the first leader of Kirklees Council when it was brought into existence by local government reorganisation of 1974.

He was among the first of the European Parliament's members, taking his seat for Labour in 1979. The parliament's predecessor was the European Assembly whose members were appointed by their national governments.

Mr Megahy would tell a story of his early days when he went down to breakfast at his hotel and found himself sharing a table with a French member. As he took his seat, he stretched out his hand and said "Tom Megahy" whereupon the Frenchman smiled and replied "Bon appetite".

It was very quickly apparent that neither spoke the other's language, and all they could do was smile and nod politely at one another.

The following day he saw his chance to reciprocate the courtesy. He was already seated when he saw the Frenchman enter the dining room, and he beckoned him to share his table.

As his fellow member took his seat, Mr Megahy said triumphantly "bon appetite", and nodding politely, the Frenchman said "Tom Megahy".

Mr Megahy recounted how he regretted there was no English equivalent of bon appetite.

The son of a railwayman, Tom Megahy was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, and became active in politics in his youth. He got a job on the railways, and did his National Service in the Royal Navy. He then won a trades union scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford, where he became a lecturer. He moved to Yorkshire and worked in further education colleges in Leeds, Rotherham and Huddersfield.

He met his future wife, Jean, at a debating competition in Leeds, and the couple had three sons.

He was active in politics in Scotland in his youth and continued in Yorkshire, becoming a local councillor in Mirfield in 1963, then leader of the new Kirklees Council in 1974.

Two years later he lost his seat, but in 1979 – despite deep-seated doubts about the European Union project – he successfully stood for the European Parliament. His constituency stretched from Hemsworth to Huddersfield and from Pontefract to the Colne Valley.

He served on a series of Parliamentary committees, including social affairs, employment and transport. He stood down in 1999, having earned the respect and affection of his colleagues for his humour, congenial company and dedication.

Tom Megahy is survived by his wife Jean and their sons Ian, Alistair and Robin.