Suárez, during his time as Prime Minister. SUR
The man who has now gone down in history as the politician who built bridges between “two Spains” after the Franco dictatorship, was born in 1932 in Cebreros, Ávila.
After studying Law at the University of Salamanca, in 1958 he joined the ‘Movimiento’, the nationalist-inspired mechanism with which Franco ruled Spain. He became director of the legal cabinet for the National Youth Delegation.
In 1964 he was named secretary general of Spain’s broadcasting company TVE before being later promoted to director general in 1969. During this time he had been the civil governor of Segovia.
After the death of Franco the newly crowned King Juan Carlos named him Prime Minister in 1976, with the responsibility of guiding the country through the Transition to democracy.
He oversaw the passing of the Political Reform, which would allow for democratic elections, through parliament. In 1977, against the wishes of the Francoist ranks and the armed forces, Suárez legalised the Communist party. In 1978 the Constitution was approved by referendum and the following year Suárez became Spain’s first democratically elected prime minister after his party, the UCD (formed by 15 parties of different ideologies), won the elections.
All his success leading up to the elections, however, started to fall apart soon after he had democratically won his seat.
In 1980 the PSOE socialist party, led by Felipe González, proposed a censure motion, which did not prosper but all the same was a symptom of Suárez’s weakening as UCD leader. Internal battles within his party led to his resignation in 1981. It was during the voting of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as his successor that Suárez showed one of his many moments of courage - during the attempted coup. The outgoing prime minister remained seated while shots were fired and the rest of the members of parliament took cover under their seats.
In 1982 he formed a new party, the CDS, which was politically active for almost a decade before, in 1991, Suárez abandoned his seat in parliament and retired from active politics.
He was given the Prince of Asturias prize for his work during the Transition in 1996, the first official recognition of his contribution during those crucial years.
After that his personal life was marked by tragedy. In 2001 his wife, Amparo Illana, whom he married in 1961, died of cancer.
In 2003 he made his last appearance in public at a PP political rally in Albacete. He made a speech in support of his son, Adolfo Suárez Illana, who was the PP candidate for president of the Junta de Castilla La Mancha. Signs of his mental deterioration were already clear. In 2003, tragedy struck again when his daughter (the couple had five children) Mariam died of cancer.
That same year, his daughter Sonsoles, also suffering from cancer, managed to overcome the disease and in 2012 another daughter, Laura, also underwent surgery for breast cancer.
It was in 1996 that Adolfo Suárez Illana announced that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and did not remember that he had been prime minister.
The following year he was visited by his old friend the King, who presented him with the ‘Insigne Orden del Toisón de Oro’, the highest distinction of the Spanish State. This visit, in which Suárez failed to recognise Juan Carlos, gave rise to a now famous photograph taken by his son.
Adolfo Suárez died on Sunday in Madrid’s Clínica Cemtro where he had been admitted several days earlier with a respiratory infection.