Cecil Ward (1929 - 2022):
Cecil Ward had a highly distinguished career in local government in Belfast where he advanced from a most junior position to the highest, from clerk to Town Clerk.
He was educated at the Belfast College of Technology before beginning his career aged 18 with Belfast Corporation (now Belfast City Council) in 1947. He then over 42 years climbed the Council ladder: Committee Clerk, Chief Clerk, Assistant Town Clerk and finally Town Clerk, this post known today as Chief Executive Officer.
He served through many of the worst years of the Troubles, of which Belfast was, literally and symbolically, one of the centres and in the words of the Belfast Telegraph, “was respected on all sides for his ability, integrity, political wisdom and sense of humour.”
Such was the regard in which he was held, that when new office accommodation was constructed in Linen Hall Street in the 1980s there was unanimous agreement that it should be named the Cecil Ward Building.
Veteran councillor and sometime Lord Mayor, Jim Rodgers said he was an
“absolutely outstanding town clerk...He treated every elected representative the same and he was the same way with his staff – he was a very fair-minded person and no matter who you were, he always had a listening ear… Cecil gave exemplary leadership over some 10 years and was admired by many other chief executives, not just in local government but through the public sector and private sectors.
He had a tremendous vision for the city and I would describe him as a man ahead of his time. Even after retirement he regularly visited the City Hall and was always available to offer guidance to those who succeeded him.
Another colleague, Lord Empey, who was Lord Mayor at the time of Cecil Ward's retirement in 1989, also said he made a huge contribution to the city. “He was a very agreeable and very approachable person and very well regarded across all other areas of government.”
Besides his position within Belfast City Council, Cecil Ward had a wide cultural background and was Chairman of the Ulster Orchestra from 1990-94. He led the orchestra on its ground-breaking foreign tours to South Korea and the USA, and as a board member on a key tour to Europe where the highlight was an acclaimed concert in the world-famous Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna, one of the music world’s niche venues. His predecessor as Chairman, Stratton Mills, said Ward “played a significant role on the board as a non-executive director… he was shrewd and a man of great charm who could be very persuasive.”
Other public appointments included with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Ulster Museum and he was a Member of Senate of Queen's University, which awarded him an honorary MA in 1988. He was appointed CBE in recognition of his civic service.
Cecil Ward kept a house in Donegal where he spent much time. He was also a Member of the Belfast Literary Society and a frequent presence at its meetings. At one such, on 13 November 1995 he read a paper before the Society entitled “Local Government and the Anglo-Irish Agreement: A Belfast Perspective”.
Cecil Ward was one of the founding members of the Ulster History Circle; the first of the iconic blue plaques unveiled by this body, to artist William Conor, had Ward as its inspiration and support. He was the last of those founding members to survive.
|26 October 1929
|15 June 2022
Chris Spurr, Ulster History Circle
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