Speaker Hoyle says House of Commons "has lost one of its dearest friends" as he opens tearoom in her memory
14 September 2021
The family of one of the best-loved staff members in the House of Commons say they are "proud beyond measure" that her name will be forever associated with the Members’ Tea Room.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle unveiled a plaque to Julia Clifford, 54, who had worked in Parliament for 37 years, saying "we have lost one of our dearest friends."
Mother-of-two Julia died in February this year after contracting Covid - just weeks after being declared cancer free.
Her husband John said her biggest upset, apart from losing her hair, "was not being able to return to the Commons, because she loved her job so much."
He said he had been overwhelmed by the response to her death after receiving more than 200 letters and condolence cards from MPs past and present - including two handwritten notes from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
"Julia was loved more than she could ever know, "said John, a wholesale florist, who she married at St Andrew’s Church, Bromley, in 1994.
"It’s an absolute honour to have her workplace affectionately known as 'Julia’s Tearoom' and it means so much to the family that she will be forever remembered by staff and MPs."
Julia, a general assistant cashier, was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, in July 2020 with septicemia after she fainted on a train.
Within 24 hours she was receiving chemotherapy, having been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Her mother, Karen Blaker, 74, said discovering she had cancer "was shocking and so unexpected. She kept asking the medics if they had made a mistake. She said: “It can’t be me.”’
John added: "The worst thing for her was losing her hair - she asked me to cut it off in the kitchen - it broke her heart. She kept saying: “What am I going to look like?” But to me she was still beautiful."'
"Because of Covid, our visits to her in hospital were limited, so she spent a lot of time on her own, which was hard for us all. But ever the fighter, she beat the disease, and on 14 January 2021 rang the hospital bell proudly to signal the end of her chemotherapy."
However, the family’s joy at having Julia home in Welling, Kent, was short-lived. Within a fortnight she was poorly again and diagnosed with Covid.
"She did everything she could to fight it," said John. "She wanted to live and had so much to live for. She doted on our granddaughter Emmie, and our grandson - Arthur - was due to be born; our son Jack was getting married. She was looking forward to returning to work and we had plans to buy a place in Portugal," said John.
"But it wasn’t to be - and she never recovered. She suffered two strokes under sedation and we had to make the painful decision for life support to be switched off."
John said he and the couple’s sons Ben and Jack "are lost without her". "I was besotted with her – she was my world. Still is.
From the moment I met her when we were both teenagers, I knew she was the one. Now I don’t stop thinking about her. Everything I do, wherever I go."
Her sister, Victoria McKenna, said: "She was such good fun – and was a good listener. We loved being mothers and had a shared joy in our children.
My mum, my brother and I are all heartbroken. It doesn’t feel real that she’s gone – she has left a huge hole in our family."
At the unveiling of a plaque in Julia’s memory, and named internal doors in Members’ Tea Room, Sir Lindsay told her family: "Thank you for allowing us to share your wife, your mum, your daughter.
Julia was a part of us and very special - she loved animals like me, she would share her stories, and everyone loved her. She will never be forgotten."
Daphne Aimes, who worked with Julia her in the Commons’ catering department for more than 30 years, said: "Julia was always outspoken, loyal and fun even if you were not a friend – and I don’t know many people who weren’t.
"She was excellent at her job, friendly with Members and could talk for Britain. She loved working with Members and, in return, they loved her back. She was lovely, kind, and lots of fun. But most of all she was my friend."
John says the family now plan to embed Julia’s ashes in her favourite corner of their garden, which she had turned into a beach to remind her of the couple’s many holidays in Cabanas de Tavira in Portugal.
Image credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor