Tributes flood in for campaigner who loved town

Tributes flood in for campaigner who loved town

12 July 2017

TRIBUTES have been paid to former Down Council chairman and health campaigner Cecil Maxwell who died last week at the age of 85.

Mr Maxwell, who served two terms as council chairman, passed away on Friday and was buried on Monday after a funeral service at Down Cathedral.

A Downpatrick man who was raised in Edward Street, he spent much of his working life working for Royal Mail, rising to become the Mails Manager at the Downpatrick sorting office.

However, it was his life of public service as a politician, passionate supporter of the Downe Hospital, a driver of the regeneration of Downpatrick and faithful member of the Down Cathedral congregation that he will be remembered for most.

He first entered politics as a Unionist councillor on Downpatrick Urban Council before joining the newly formed Down District Council in 1973. He served until 1985 and was chairman in 1982/83 and in his final year as a politician, 1984/85.

He was an ardent supporter of the Downe Hospital and a dedicated supporter of the campaign to retain acute services in Downpatrick. He was chairman of the Down Community Health Committee (DCHC) for a number of years, meeting many Health Ministers, leading many delegations and taking part in many protests as part of that campaign.

Even after retirement he rarely missed a DCHC meeting, bringing his huge experience to bear on many debates and campaigns.

Cecil was also hugely aware of the importance of regenerating Downpatrick and he became a member in the Downpatrick Property Trust when it was set up in 1993.

The Trust was set up at a time when Downpatrick was in the doldrums and it’s first aim was to restore some of the run down and derelict properties in the town centre.

Leading the tributes to Cecil Maxwell this week was the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Connor, the Right Reverend Harold Miller, who said he could not imagine the Cathedral without the presence of Cecil Maxwell.

“He was a most welcoming and caring person, and served in local politics with the Ulster Unionist Party during the most difficult of times in this province. 

“Cecil was loved and respected by so many across the community, and was an ardent worker for reconciliation and peace in this province.”

Bishop Miller said the phrase he most remembered from Cecil was his deion of Down Cathedral as ‘the Jerusalem of Ireland.”

“As he saw the pilgrimage services each year with the people gathering to the hill of Down to remember the witness of Patrick, he would be very emotional, seeing something of his vision before his eyes. A godly, Christian man, whose Lord has taken him to himself,” he said.

Former South Down MP, Margaret Ritchie, who served alongside him on Down Council, said she was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of someone who was a Downpatrick and Lecale man through and through.

“Cecil’s life of public service was characterised by reconciliation and building a shared society,” she said. “His work was epitomised by that principle – he did not deviate from it.  Cecil was a man of peace and peace building.

“He also served his community as an Ulster Unionist  councillor in Downpatrick Urban and Down District Council until his retirement from front line politics in 1985.   

“I worked with Cecil over several years and found him to be a man of integrity, honesty, diligence and honour.  Following his retirement from local government,  Cecil continued campaigns that were dear to his heart – his relentless struggle, along with the former MP for South Down the late Eddie McGrady, the late councillor John Ritchie and former councillors John Doris, Gerry Douglas  and Eamonn O’Neill, to achieve a new build hospital in Downpatrick with a range of services.  

“Cecil was a man of deep religious faith and made a sterling contribution to the development of Down Cathedral over the last few decades.  

“He had a passion about Patrician heritage and played a significant role in St Patrick’s Day liturgical services in the Cathedral,” said Miss Ritchie.