Blazing lights, warm acclaim for Margaret Whitlam

Political leaders are easy and willing targets for criticism, but as Margaret Whitlam's rich life showed, personal virtues can still triumph.

The distinguished life of Margaret Whitlam has rightfully received warm and wide acclaim.

Her passing was a quiet reminder of the fleetingness of human life. This was a woman who seemed indestructible, who seemed even stronger than her husband of 70 years.

The news triggered a national outpouring of glowing tribute. Of course, it transcended politics. It was about character and life itself.

Her husband remains Australia’s oldest remaining prime minister. When the hour finally comes – one day in the distant future, it is hoped – the tributes to him will be equal in spirit and generosity.

Political leaders are easy – and willing – targets. All of our former prime ministers still with us will testify to the personal tolls and tribulations of their old job.

Family life suffers above all. Children grow in a blaze of public light. The words and deeds of partners, siblings and relatives are tracked and reported – for good or for ill.

Derision and ire are freely and openly delivered. It goes with the territory as the business is often a fierce and bloody (in words) contest of values and ideas.

All our former prime ministers are men. They each had the support and counsel of strong-willed wives.

Gough has paid a moving tribute to "the love of my life”. His words remind us all that these former prime ministers are no different to any of us. They live ordinary lives away from the public places – lives with all its joys and its suffering.

Perhaps it's times like this that may put perspective and add to a reflection on the tone and language of our great national arguments. After all, at the end, it's personal.