Rose and Jamie ... the perfect couple

PUBLISHED: 14:05 26 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:54 03 March 2010

ROSIE and Jamie. They were a double act at the top of the bill and it was only rarely that one would be out and about in Ipswich without the other.

But life has a cruel way of dealing with devotion such as theirs and when Ipswich lost its MP last month with the untimely death of Jamie Cann, Rosie lost her soul mate, her perfect partner and the man who had been her life for more than 30 years.

ROSIE and Jamie. They were a double act at the top of the bill and it was only rarely that one would be out and about in Ipswich without the other.

But life has a cruel way of dealing with devotion such as theirs and when Ipswich lost its MP last month with the untimely death of Jamie Cann, Rosie lost her soul mate, her perfect partner and the man who had been her life for more than 30 years.

And today, just a few days after Ipswich voted in the by-election that would give the town a new Labour MP, Rosie Cann spoke exclusively to LYNN ABBOTT about the life she shared with Jamie and her loss.

ASK Rosie Cann to tell you what attracted her to Jamie and she will say, in an instant, chemistry.

"I had never, ever been remotely interested in going for the handsome types, all good looking and full of themselves because of their appearance.

"Yet the first time I set eyes on Jamie there was something special about him. It was only a brief meeting but I never forgot him. He said he never forgot me either. There was just a chemistry between us, strange isn't it?"

Rosie is still trying to make sense of the void that has surrounded her since October 15, the day that Jamie died. The right hand woman of the town's Labour MP for the biggest part of a decade has been robbed of her other half but even in these early days of bereavement she has to look for positives in her new world.

Cuddling her "baby", Jack the Yorkshire Terrier that arrived in the Cann family from a rescue home on Jamie's birthday in June this year, Rosie said grieving is something that can only be handled in a personal way. There is no guide book.

"I only seem to be able to get by each day by going out. Every invitation I get I accept – I feel that if I refuse then maybe people will stop asking.

"I can't stay in and if I can't see entries in my diary for places to go I feel panicky. It is the only way that I can deal with it.

"My best friend and I go out all the time and the hardest part of being out is seeing people in couples. I am trying to look for the good side of this situation by studying the men that are making up each couple and thinking about whether I would want to be in their woman's place.

"I can always see something that I don't like and it's silly, I know, but it helps."

Jamie was a high profile person in life and his passing was of national interest. There are times when Rosie must wish for her privacy but her years with Jamie have shown her that once a politicians' wife, always in the public eye.

Chatting with her brought many showings of her sadness to the surface but there was laughter too and smiles. He brought her so many happy times and those memories are impossible to hide even at times of great sorrow.

Jamie's years as leader of Ipswich Borough Council and those when he was a teacher were the foundations for the Man of the People title that Jamie earned and were built on through his constituency work as an MP.

Rosie was his secretary so she shared his professional life as well as privately. She knows that even though he was surrounded by people – and, in the nicest, possible way – at their beck and call non-stop, the life of a politician is a lonely and demanding one.

The town has just held a by-election – the first of this new Parliament – and Rosie is pleased with her late husband's successor.

It is too painful a subject for her to discuss but she did endorse his appointment by saying: "I think Chris Mole is the best local Labour person that could have been chosen."

He is, she said, a good man. But he is not her Jamie.

It has been well documented that Jamie had announced his retirement after this next term of office and the decision had been taken because the job of giving his all and being on hand every hour of any day had taken over his life.

Some may say that he gave his life for the job. Rosie would not admit so herself because the long hours away from home, putting every one else's problems ahead of his own was typical Jamie.

He would never have courted such prominence for himself in fact he was the most selfless person that Rosie ever knew.

"He was always fighting for the rights of other people and was the most placid person, only very rarely getting angry. Nothing much got his back up but he hated injustice being served on people and disloyalty. He was the most loyal person I know.

"He also got a little bit cross with me for spending a lot of money on a book for him one Christmas.

"Jamie loved his books but he always had to buy second hand ones, there was something extra special about them.

"One year – when he had been wanting an atlas – I bought one for him and he couldn't understand why I had paid so much for a new book."

Jamie's book shelves are of almost library proportions and he had often told Rosie she'd probably get shot of them should anything happen to him.

"There are enough to open up a second hand bookshop but no way in the world would I part with them. They were Jamie's passion. They were Jamie."

He loved his garden too and that was one of the reasons why they moved to their large family home in east Ipswich in 1993.

The garden is a picture and so is the home that at the beginning was just about the right size for Rosie, Jamie, their sons, Jamie, 31 and Andrew, 29 plus Rosie's mother, Rosetta but always known as Ett.

"It's not often that you hear of a husband actively encouraging his mother in law to come and live with them but that's what Jamie was like.

"In fact he became her favourite. I was the one who always did the wrong thing and Jamie could do no wrong. He really missed mum when she died three years ago."

Rosie and Jamie met, by accident, at a dance. Rosie was there with the town's mayoress and Jamie was there with other people but also unattached.

"My mayoress friend suggested that Jamie and I have a dance as we were both there without partners. We had one dance and we never forgot each other.

"Six months after that we met again, quite by chance at a party and that really was it. Jamie said he could remember exactly what I had been wearing that first time he met me, it was my first ever mini dress."

Rosie said that dress always held special memories for him and for years after they were married he would suggest she wear it again.

"It was not the kind of dress I wanted to wear years later and unbeknown to Jamie it would have been difficult for me to wear it again I had cut it up to make slipper bags for the boys. He never knew and even though it was – what I would think now as being awful – purple and orange stripes he never made the connection."

Clothes, with the exception of that dress perhaps, were not Jamie's strongpoint. Never a fashion icon himself he was just happy being himself.

He was never bothered with possessions and didn't concern himself about money, leaving that to Rosie to manage.

Thinking back again to the time they met, Rosie said it was amazing that growing up in the same town that was about the size of Woodbridge, their paths had never cross until fate intervened at that dance.

Poles apart in their backgrounds – Jamie's father and grandfather were both miners although his dad later worked in the Scunthorpe steelworks. Rosie's father was a master printer. They had two totally different personalities but their differences made one perfect whole.

At the time of their second meeting Jamie had just finished at teacher training college and it was not long afterwards that he was appointed to his one and only teaching post at what was Bramford Road Primary School, later rebuilt and known as Handford Hall.

"He loved those kids and would do anything to help them. It was partly down to the problems some of those children had with their housing that got him in to politics. It was a way of being able to make a difference.

"The improvements for those children and also getting to know Dai Williams, who was also a teacher but at Copleston who got him involved with St John's Ward Labour group that interested him in politics. He remained that way."

Being one half of a high profile couple means that grieving is very public but the funeral she and her boys organised for Jamie was different.

"Some people would have said it was strange but it was just for family and very close friends. But everyone left us – me and the boys – in the church with Jamie for a few minutes so we could say our goodbyes in a family way.

"Even the vicar left. It was what we wanted and Jamie, who hated a fuss for anything, would not have wanted a big funeral.

"Jamie's parents, who still live in North Lincolnshire, are elderly. They came to the funeral but did not come to the memorial.

"That memorial service must have been amazing although I went through it all in a blur. I don't know how I went through it. You seem to do things without noticing you've done them.

"Although I think things are getting worse for me. Each day I miss him more," she added.

Jamie had been looking forward to the arrival of their first grandchild but sadly Ethan James, born to Andrew and his wife Saraid, missed meeting his granddad by one day.

Bad timing has nothing to do with it. It is clear that even little Ethan, who is the apple of his "super-gran's" eye can not fill that void or ease the deep down pain in her heart.

"Ethan is a beautiful baby, and we all love him to bits. But nothing takes away the pain although it does give a focus, a lovely focus to divert my thoughts."

Being the widow – and Rosie said that word should be extinct as she will always think of herself as Jamie's wife – of a serving MP did not give exemption from having to pay a personal visit to the Social Security offices.

"When I filled out my forms for widow's benefit I could not have had my head on right because I said I was not going to be looking for work.

"So I was summonsed to the office to explain myself or I could have been at risk of losing the benefit."

When the news broke that Jamie was seriously ill in hospital the family received hundreds of goodwill cards and letters.

Then when he died, more cards and messages of condolence were received.

"And on top of all of these we received cards for the birth of Ethan. There are hundreds altogether."

Replying to them all is impossible for Rosie at the moment but maybe one day individual notes of thanks will be sent.

"There are just so many people to thank and I hope that I can do that in the Evening Star. But individual thanks must go to Jim Hehir at Ipswich council and his colleagues for help with organising the memorial service and for just being so kind.

"Also to Christine's Florists in Bramford Road for sending beautiful flowers."

Rosie has no idea where her future will take her, maybe she will find a new job or perhaps she will hit upon a hobby to fill her hours. But she is a fatalist and knows that what will be will be, like the two chance meetings with Jamie all those years ago happened for a reason.

Jamie was, she said: "almost perfect and they take those people first, don't they. If he had any faults at all then I would have to say that he was always calm and would never argue. I would get cross if he didn't get uptight over some things.

"But he was so generous, he would do anything for me, give me anything and let me do what I wanted to do. And he loved his family."

The "super-gran" title Rosie bestowed on herself not, she said because she is better than anyone else – she is too much her late husband's wife for that – but because it was to reflect her intention to change her car for a sporty model.

"I just fancied getting another sports car, nothing flash but a bit sporty. I've had two in the past and really thought little Ethan and me could go out for rides in style. Jack, my other little man in my life loves the car too. I just pictured us in a sports car.

"But now I'm not sure, I think there's something legal about babies and sports cars. I'll see."

Ever since Jamie had decided to retire from politics at the next General Election, the couple had been preparing for retirement.

The house was being done up and in a big green jar on the floor of the kitchen a little kitty "retirement fund" had been started.

Any loose change was to be put in there and on retirement day it was to be counted and spent on something they would both enjoy.

"Jamie was never money minded and we always had lovely holidays. We went everywhere and I would always recommend to anyone, don't hoard your money, enjoy it like we did. You never know when the good times will end."

As to the "retirement fund", Rosie said she will continue building it up and come the next General Election she will count it, just as they had planned to do.

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