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Lives Remembered

Cecil Maxwell: A life of public service and peace building

Cecil Maxwell was a former chairman of Down District Council and long-time campaigner on health and other social issues. Picture from Down Recorder

Cecil Maxwell led a "life of public service characterised by reconciliation".

The postman, councillor, campaigner and ecumenical leader had a passionate commitment to building a shared society in his beloved Downpatrick.

Much of his efforts were focused on Down Cathedral, where he served as a chorister as a boy and a warden for the rest of his life, physically welcoming people into the building with his handshake and warm smile.

He described it as the 'Jerusalem of Ireland', strongly believing that its links with the unifying figure of St Patrick could help bring people of different traditions together.

He was a strong supporter of ecumenical efforts and it was controversy over an invitation to Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich to a St Patrick's service in 1985 that led him to become disillusioned with political life and concentrate on Church and other commitments.

Downpatrick's status today as a beacon for cross-community co-operation is in part due to his lifelong efforts, with his one great regret being that Churches had not moved sufficiently to allow the sharing the communion before his death.

Cecil was born in 1932, one of nine children to William and Mabel Maxwell, and was brought up in Edward Street in Downpatrick where as a young sports fanatic he was the proud owner of the street's first television.

He joined the Post Office aged 14 as a telegram boy, and was promoted three years later to delivering mail by bicycle.

In a career lasting almost half a century he eventually rose to become mails manager in Downpatrick and received the British Empire Medal in Queen Elizabeth's birthday honours list in 1985.

In 1959 Cecil married Myrtle, a nurse in the Downe Hospital, and he was at the forefront of campaigns in the town for a new hospital, speaking at countless rallies and chairing the Down Community Health Committee.

He was elected to the old Downpatrick Urban Council in 1967 and later to Down District Council, serving as its chairman in 1982/83 and 1984/85.

Although he represented the Ulster Unionist Party he had little time for narrow party politics, seeing his role as representing all the people.

He expressed pride that it was the first local authority to introduce a power-sharing arrangement.

His decision to step down followed criticism of his attendance as chairman at a service attended by Bishop Robin Eames and Cardinal O Fiaich, but he continued to be actively involved in council twinning schemes.

As chairman of Downpatrick Property Trust Cecil also did much to improve the appearance of the town by restoring derelict properties.

However, the building closest to his heart was always Down Cathedral, where he was a member of the Cathedral Board.

At his funeral, the Dean of Down Very Rev Henry Hull was joined by parish priest Fr John Murray along with other clergy on the altar.

Dean Hull described Mr Maxwell as a “man of courage” and a pioneer in cross-community relations during difficult times.

"He was deeply committed to working for the whole community. That was evident when he served in the council, in the campaign for the hospital and various other social projects in Downpatrick," he said.

"He was also very committed to Down Cathedral being a focal point in the community and a place where everyone was welcome. He had a genuine concern for people

Former South Down MP Margaret Ritchie also said he was a man of "integrity, honesty, diligence and honour".

"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."

Cecil Maxwell died aged 85 on July 7. He is survived by his wife, children Linda, Beverley and Rodney and family circle.

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Lives Remembered

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