Adolfo Suarez, who died on Sunday, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for many years.
He was hospitalized on March 17 with a respiratory infection and his death on March 23 was reported by state television. He was 81.
The former Prime Minister steered Spain through one of the most turbulent periods in its political history, building bridges between the “two Spains” after fascist dictator General Francisco Franco died in 1975.
Suarez had five children, including a son, also named Adolfo, a politician, lawyer, and amateur bullfighter, and a daughter, Sonsoles, a television journalist.
Many Spaniards remember Suarez’s unruffled demeanor during one of the tensest moments in the country’s modern history, an attempted coup on Feb. 23 1981.
Six years earlier, after Franco’s death, King Juan Carlos called on Suarez, a young Francoist minister, to unite the two factions who were still in a sense fighting the 1936-1939 civil war.
At the time, his Francoist colleagues called him a turncoat and the main opposition Socialists accused him of opportunism.
The immediate aim was to organize Spain’s first democratic elections since the war, which Suarez won in 1977, serving as prime minister for four years, in which the country was beset by economic, political and security problems.
A transformational leader whose main priority as a politician was national reconciliation.
He drew criticism from all sides and eventually resigned. But decades later, Suarez came to be recognized as one of the founding fathers of modern Spain.
A 2007 poll showed that Spaniards regarded him as the most respected prime minister since Franco’s death.
Handsome, charming both in and out of the political arena and acting with a notable sangfroid at potentially explosive times, Suarez was made a duke in 1981 and formed a close friendship with the king.
“He was a great statesman,” said King Juan Carlos in a TV address, his voice at times trembling.
The death of a figure such as Suarez, respected for making sacrifices for the good of the nation, seems particularly poignant at a time when polls show that corruption has eroded Spaniards’ faith in the political class.
Biographer and historian Charles Powell described Suarez as a “transformational leader whose main priority as a politician was national reconciliation.”
Suarez formed another political party but never experienced the same success, and retired from politics in 1991 to care for his wife, Amparo, and daughter, Marian, who both suffered from breast cancer.
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