FORMER Prime Minister Tony Blair last night paid tribute to his father’s “extraordinary spirit” after he died at the age of 89.
Mr Blair was forced to pull out of celebrations for the fifth anniversary of the Tony Blair Sports Foundation in Newcastle to be at his father’s bedside.
But last night the former Labour leader’s office announced that Leo Blair, a retired law lecturer at Durham University, had died.
Mr Blair – who cancelled an engagement with former US president Bill Clinton on Thursday after his father fell ill – paid an emotional tribute.
He said: “He was a remarkable man. Raised in a poor part of Glasgow, he worked his way up from nothing, with great ambitions dashed by serious illness on the very brink of their fulfillment.
“He lost my mother, whom he adored, when she was still young. Yet despite it all he remained animated by an extraordinary spirit that was in him until the end.
“I was privileged to have him as a dad.”
Mr Blair Snr was the son of travelling entertainers who gave him up for adoption by a Glasgow ship worker.
A Communist as a young man, he served in the Army in the Second World War, then after demobilisation studied law in his spare time to become a barrister and later a law lecturer in Australia and at Durham University.
He became a member of the Conservative Party and chairman of the Durham Conservative Association, but his dream of entering Parliament was scotched by a stroke at the age of 40, when his son Tony was 11.
Tragedy struck when his wife Hazel – Tony’s mother – died of throat cancer in 1975. Leo later re-married and moved to Shropshire with his second wife, Olwyn.
He joined the Labour Party in his seventies, when his son became leader. Tony frequently spoke of his closeness to his father, and named his fourth child after him in 2000.
The former PM had been due to visit Walker Technology College, Newcastle Cricket Centre and Rutherford Football Club in Gateshead but was instead called to his father’s bedside.
Steve Cram and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson gave speeches in his absence at the foundation’s event at the Copthorne Hotel on Newcastle’s Quayside. They launched the Pass It On campaign which aims to build on the Olympic legacy by increasing sports participation in the North East.