THE life of the late Labour party leader John Smith can inspire future generations to dedicate themselves to public life, his widow has said.

On the 20th anniversary of her husband's unexpected death, Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill announced the creation of a new centre to "promote public service as a noble vocation" and provide a lasting tribute to the life of Mr Smith.

The John Smith Centre for Public Service will be housed at Glasgow University, where John and Elizabeth both studied and first met, with the expectation it will be operational by the end of this year.

Baroness Smith recalled that on the night before he died, her husband gave a speech at a Labour Party gala dinner in London, which concluded with the comment: "The opportunity to serve our country - that is all we ask".

She added: "It is that single phrase that encapsulates a lifetime of seeking to help others through efforts in public service. I am sure if he was still with us today it would trouble John greatly to find public life held in so low esteem.

"Given all he stood for, I believe John's life can still serve as an inspiration to a future generation who at present may not see the value of such work.

"I am hugely excited by this new initiative. The work of the centre will seek to define what public service is in the modern age, how it should be conducted and how everyone can consider contributing to it, whether in local communities or on the world stage."

John Smith was just 55 when he died in St Bartholomew's hospital in London after two serious heart attacks, the first of which happened an hour earlier at his Barbican flat, on May 12 1994.

He had suffered a previous heart attack in 1988 but had been widely expected to lead Labour to victory at the 1997 General Election.

He was buried in a private family funeral on the island of Iona, at the sacred burial ground of Reilig Odhrain, which contains the graves of several Scottish kings

The centre's focus will be to ­encourage debate on, and provide research into, the value of public service, as well as attracting young people to ­contribute to public life, with a view to restoring the reputation of the role of public servants.

The centre has already received messages of support from First ­Minister Alex Salmond and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.

It will soon begin the process of recruiting a director to oversee its work and also to secure funding for its research programme for 2015.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, ­Principal and Vice-Chancellor of ­Glasgow University, said: "John Smith was one of our most distinguished alumni. His influence and impact were, and are, profound.

"It is clear that we now live in an age of crisis and renewal. We should focus on the opportunities for renewal and creating the institutions and ideals that can drive improvement across society.

"The John Smith Centre for Public Service will be a suitable vehicle to deliver on these aims."

Mr Salmond said: "I held John Smith in the very highest of regard and I think the Centre for Public Service is both a fitting tribute and timely initiative."

Mr Miliband said: "John Smith was a man of great decency and deep integrity. His unshakeable commitment to public service was rooted in his Labour values and his deep desire to improve the lives of people across the country.

"John's legacy lives on today, from the minimum wage to the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

"He campaigned for these changes and many more throughout his political lifetime and they were delivered by a Labour government.

"John knew the difference that ­politics and public service could make. The creation of the centre will ensure his legacy lives on and his life will influence a new generation."