I knew Joan for twenty-five years - from just before she entered Parliament to the end of her life. During that time I cam to count her as one of my closest friends and I believe the feeling was mutual.
If there is one phrase that sums up Joan it is "down to earth". I do not know of a politician who was more straightforward or so entirely lacking in guile or in airs and graces. You always knew where you stood with Joan. But although she was a person of strong opinions, she was never strident, always ready to listen to the views of others and always courteous. That is why, throughout her life, she retained the respect of persons of all political persuasions, many of whom are here today.
Joan was one of the few absolutely reliable politicians that I know. If she said something, you knew she meant it. If she said she would meet you at a given place at a given time, you knew for certain that she would be there. Although her formal education finished at the age of fourteen, I often found her political instincts superior to those of more sophisticated people who had degrees and diplomas to their name.
Neil Kinnock once summed her up nicely. "Joan", he said, "rarely bothers to wrap up her statements with the usual reservations and this has earned her in some circles a reputation as a sloganising left, which is unfair. In fact she is a very gentle person. She has ultimate faith in the People - with a capital P - of the sort that has deserted most political activists by the time they are thirty. It is absolute insurance against disillusionment".
I am asked to mention her political achievements. The first is that in twenty-five years as secretary and later as agent, for the Thirsk and Malton Constituency Labour Party she built up one of the healthiest Labour Parties in the country, bequeathing to her successor a party with around two thousand members. No small achievement in a Tory stronghold.
Second, Joan demonstrated - decades before New Labour was ever heard of - (first in South Kilvington and later here in Sowerby) that it was possible for a socialist to be elected deep behind - if you will forgive the expression - enemy lines, without having to hide his or her views under a bushel. People voted for her because they respected her.
Her third political achievement, and the one for which she will be remembered, is the leading part she played in securing the passage of the Rent (Agricultural) Act which put an end to the iniquitous tied cottage system that caused so much misery to rural workers and their families. Joan was proud of her work for the Agriculture Workers' Union. Her friend and colleague, the late Jack Brocklebank, once said to me: "I've been a member of the union for fifty years and I've known all our leaders: general secretaries, executive members, the lot. I can't think of any figure as stout hearted as Joan. In my opinion she is the greatest fighter the farm workers have produced."
In parliament she represented an industrial constituency, Sheffield Brightside. Most of her constituents were steelworkers and she fought for them as fervently as she had earlier fought for rural workers. She was at heart, however, a country person. Some of her most useful work in Parliament was, as a member of the Agriculture Select Committee, where she often allied herself with the independent-minded Tory MP, Sir Richard Body, to mitigate the excesses of modern farming which so desecrated the countryside she loved.
As a politician Joan was fearless. If she thought a cause was right, she did not sit around calculating the effect on her opinion poll rating. She spoke up. She believed strongly in a united Ireland and never hesitated to say so. She was one of only a handful of MPs who voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act from the outset. She did so, not because she was soft on terrorism - on the contrary - but because she believed the Act to be an affront to liberty. A view which is now held widely. So much so that the Government is proposing to redraft it.
A politician who holds views outside of the consensus always runs the risk of being characterized in certain circles as a child eating monster. There are several people here today who have suffered this fate. Joan was one. Some of you will have seen the disgraceful obituary that appears in the 'Daily Telegraph' on Monday. Obviously written by someone who had never met Joan and who had not troubled to contact anyone who had. Full of nonsense about "Stalin's granny", and accompanied by a ghastly photograph carefully selected to make her look like a Soviet agent. My first reaction was to fire off an angry letter which, of course, has not been published. The 'Daily Telegraph" is nothing if not predictable. Later, I thought about how Joan would have reacted. She wouldn't have been angry. She would have expected nothing less. We would have sat down and had a laugh about it.
If I am asked to state her greatest political achievement, it is this: that, in an age of cynicism about politics and politicians, she was a politician who radiated integrity.
It is not, however, as a politician that I will first and foremost remember Joan. I shall remember her as a good friend of my family and I who was most at home in the lovely countryside of North Yorkshire. I shall remember the walks we had - along Sutton Bank, in Kilburn Woods, to see the daffodils at Farndale, to Fountains, Revieux and Jervaulx Abbeys. I shall remember our last outing together, when it was already obvious that something was seriously wrong with her health, to the great garden at Newby Hall. I shall remember summer evenings spent in her beautiful garden.
Above all, I shall remember my last sight of Joan when I went to visit her at the Lambert Hospital, just down the road, a few days before she died. She asked me to return to her house and collect two books she had bought for my children. (Our house is full of children's books from Joan - goodness knows how the local bookshop is going to cope without her). I took them back. She pulled herself up on one elbow and signed and dated each one. We then said goodbye for what we both knew would be the last time. As I left, she raised her arm and gave me the thumbs up. Her arm was still raised as I closed the door.
Friends, to have known Joan Maynard was one of the great privileges of my life. I will never forget her.