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He was praised for his "superb ability" by predecessor Neil Kinnock, and for being one of the "foremost parliamentary talents of our time" by Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown.
Most Labour MPs expected that Mr Smith would be the next British PM and his death from two serious heart attacks on 12 May 1994 came as a tremendous blow.
He was regarded as a man of great honesty and decency, and his passing was mourned by politicians on all sides.
I remember walking across the quad at school when a friend told me that John Smith had died.
Even though we were young teenagers, we were both aware of the significance of his death and the hole it left in British politics.
I wonder what he'd make of the Labour Party today - my hunch is that he'd be quietly proud of Blair and the work of the government.
I remember that day very well. I was working as a barman and as I had been working a late shift the previous night, I didn't hear any news before I got to the pub the following morning.
I had just opened up and the first customer in told me the news. I just could not believe it - I was stunned. As a life-long Labour supporter, as were the majority of my friends, we were just stood around in silence for what seemed like an eternity.
He was the best prime minister we never had!
Steve Mott, England
A good friend and I had just finished High School and were backpacking through the UK.
We were in a hostel in Bath when suddenly a flurry of shouts and running was quickly silenced as everyone ran into the main TV room.
My friend and I had no idea who John Smith was - but we were immediately struck by the group gathering in silence, all with tears in their eyes.
As a foreign traveller I was taken aback by how important that man had been, and how much people had wanted him to be the next prime minister. Ever since that time I have followed British politics.
Jason D. Smith, Canada
I remember that day so clearly. I was living in Bristol, it was a few weeks before my degree finals.
The news was devastating - finally a Labour leader with a very realistic chance of chucking out the hated Tories. A man widely admired and respected.
I remember sitting on the sofa crying over the phone with my sister. I've often wondered how different the UK would be now if John Smith had made it to PM, especially in light of Tony Blair's "Third Way" to war.
Jo Banks, Australia
I remember that I was in the library at University in Glasgow and the news came in by around 1100 that John Smith had passed away.
Complete shock and sadness was felt by everybody there as, this man was not only a great politician but a true gentleman.
The death of John Smith only truly dawned upon me one morning, on a visit to Iona.
I happened across his grave when visiting the isle not long after his death. When I say I happened, this is an exaggeration - I merely followed the numbers of people who also deliberately happened across his grave.
While John Smith had not the time to become the icon of politics, his memory is embedded deep in the sole of the British public. His grave, like the man, is a humble tribute to a colossus of our people.
Adrian James, UK
"John Smith dies at 55" was the headline in the London Evening Standard on that day.
It is one of the handful of historic editions I have kept, along with "Thatcher resigns" and "Gorbachev overthrown".
I was never a Labour supporter, but the sense of loss felt by the country that day transcended party politics.
My future wife and I were on our first holiday together in Turkey and we were enjoying an afternoon beer in a bar in Bodrum, some English tourists (I'm Scottish) were also standing at the bar and they had a copy of The Daily Star lying in front of them, unread, the banner headline announcing the terrible news.
I was devastated, having spent my entire adult life under the Tories, my family suffering as a direct result of Thatcher's "ideology".
I had great faith in this decent man taking Labour to victory at the next election.
The thing that struck me most was that the English tourists had to ask who John Smith was! I wasn't impressed.
David Corrigan, Australia
I will never forget the shock of hearing John Smith had died. It was my wedding anniversary, but we were too upset to celebrate.
I went to sign the commemoration book in the Royal Mile and then to his funeral at Cluny Church. It was one of the most emotional days of my life.
I have recently visited his grave in Iona again - a very emotional day, but I am so glad I did.
An honest man - where would we be today I wonder? It may have been so different.
Anne B, Scotland
I remember the shock and deep sadness I felt on hearing of the death of John Smith. I was not and still am not a Labour supporter, but I think as a nation we were robbed of a potentially great leader.
A rare man (let alone in politics) of integrity, honesty and of faith. I remember visiting his grave on the Isle of Iona in 1996, where he is buried along side the Kings of Scotland.
I was only 11 at the time but I remember watching him as a child and thinking how impressive this man was. He inspired me as a youngster - he spoke with such truth and conviction that I wanted to vote for him. If only.
Thomas Cornel, Seattle, USA
I remember it well. I was at college studying for my electronics qualifications when one of the tutors announced this sad news to the class.
I thought: "That is also the death of the Labour Party as we know it." How tragically correct I was.
Steve Foley, United Kingdom
I was at Glasgow University and had completed the first half of my Geopolitics finals exam. I came out of the exam on a gloriously sunny day and was told by my fellow students that John Smith was dead.
I felt sorry for the nation but also sadness for the man as he did so much to unify the left and right factions of the Labour party. His legacy was to leave the party in a robust state to finally take on and finish the Tories.
Hopefully, the current leadership can take a leaf out of his book and employ it in the party before the infighting comes to the fore again.
Alan Donnelly, UK
I remember the day John Smith died very clearly. My son Calum was born in the early afternoon of 12 May 1994.
This was a very emotional day for me - losing one of the finest and most honourable politicians that the Labour party has produced and gaining a son.
I just hope he grows up to have just a half of John Smith's honour and decency.
I remember this day very well - it was such a shock to hear the news on the radio at lunchtime when I left work.
John Smith always seemed a very noble, brave and honest man and I confess that I had to drive to a quiet spot and sat in my car and sobbed for a time. I can remember too feeling such sympathy for Elizabeth and the girls too.
It would have been nice for him to see the fruits of his labour now, both in terms of the Westminster and Scottish parliaments, although I suppose this was also the catalyst for the issues between Gordon and Tony which are still to be resolved.
Nonetheless, I feel this was a sad and tragic loss for his family and the Labour party and for Scotland.
Alison Klose, Scotland
I was just 10 at the time but i was struck by the extreme emotion of the whole day.
All of the adults were tearful and mournful. Now as I study politics at uni, and 10 years to the day, when I graduated from high school, I can clearly see why.
An ordinary name, an extraordinary man.
Benedict Docherty, Scotland
I was at university and had gone to my mates' room where they had a TV and they broke the news to me. I remember just sinking to the floor with my head in my hands and didn't speak for about ten minutes. The country, and indeed the world, was robbed of potentially one of the great post-war Prime Ministers.
John Smith was that very rare thing, a politician of genuine conviction and integrity. We would be living in a very different, and in my opinion, better country had he lived.
Linsey Pithers, UK
He was a decent man, but what most people seem to forget is that he single-handedly did more to lose the 1992 general election for Labour than anyone else - with his "Shadow Budget" which helped the Conservatives secure the largest number of votes for a political party in British history.
This budget gives us a good insight to the policies he would have pursued in government and I have little doubt that, had he lived, the Tories would have won the 1997 election.
I read again about John Smith's death today, ten years on. Again, like ten years ago, I felt very upset! I remember feeling that all was lost and we would never get the Tories out of power.
I think he was the one man who people did believe, whether they agreed with him or not, and I think he was the best Prime Minister Britain never had!
Catherine, Nottingham, UK
Having been a member of the party for a number of years, deeply disappointed after the 1992 election result and having shared a London to Edinburgh shuttle with John, I was devastated on this day as the news filtered through. I was not alone at work that day in shedding a few tears. I stood outside Cluny Kirk the evening of his funeral and just knew that Labour could not lose the 1997 election.
As an 18-year-old Labour activist at the time, I remember the day well. The breakfast-time shock took most of the day to settle in. It seemed to many of us in the party that we had be cheated twice over, firstly in 1992 and then by this.
The country would be a vastly different place with John Smith in office. He was a politician with true conviction, a rare breed in the modern world.
Ben Evetts, UK
My wife and I were honeymooning in Inverness at the time of John Smith's death. At the same time there was a Scottish Conservative Party conference and a Scottish professional Snooker tournament going on.
The town should have been buzzing, but I can vividly remember the shock and disbelief that descended on the city. It felt incompatible with the glorious sunny weather and the party atmosphere of the previous day.
I was particularly taken by the genuine grief of the Tory MPs who were staying at the same hotel as us on the banks of the River Ness. One always thinks that politicians of one party, despise those of the other parties, but the feeling I got was that the Tory MPs really did mourn for the loss of a great man.
David Baldwin, England
I remember arriving at my Aunt's house and seeing the news reports. As a Labour supporter, I was devastated at the loss of this man, the person who was going to be our first Labour PM since 1979.
Having grown up under the Conservatives, I was very concerned that we would never replace him, and that day was the beginning of the end of my involvement with the Labour party.
I was happy to see Tony Blair elected as PM in 1997, but could never shake the feeling that if he had lived, John Smith would have been PM, and in my opinion would have done a much, much better job. A committed Christian, an honourable man and sorely missed in these days of image and spin.
Nichola Vincendeau, UK
John Smith is the man who would have been prime minister, and Blair could not have got into office if it hadn't been for the great work done by Mr Smith. New Labour today would have been very different under his leadership.
Jamie Reeves, UK
Having been a member of the Labour party for a number of years, deeply disappointed after the 1992 election result, and having shared a London to Edinburgh shuttle with John, I was devastated on this day as the news filtered through.
I was not alone at work that day in shedding a few tears. I stood outside Cluny Kirk the evening of his funeral and just knew that Labour could not lose the 1997 election.
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