Town in mourning for Mr Ipswich

Figures from the worlds of politics, business, and public service were gathering today to pay tribute to the life and work of former borough chief James Hehir.

IPSWICH: Figures from the worlds of politics, business, and public service were gathering today to pay tribute to the life and work of former borough chief James Hehir.

His memorial service was taking place at the Civic Church, St Mary le Tower, this morning - but many more people were expected at a special relay at the Corn Exchange.

Mr Hehir died suddenly two weeks ago after returning from a trip to Australia to attend his son's wedding.

Members of the family were leading the mourners at today's service.

Three eulogies were due to be read.

One was from Deborah Cadman, chief executive of the East of England Development Agency, with whom Mr Hehir worked closely on the redevelopment of the Waterfront.

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Former Evening Star editor and personal friend Crawford Gillan was due to pay a tribute to someone he had known since Mr Hehir returned to Ipswich as chief executive of the borough 20 years ago.

And current council leader Liz Harsant was also reading a eulogy on behalf of the council that he had served so well.

Readings were due from long-serving corporate director Laurence Collins and Suffolk New College principal Prof Dave Muller.

Since his death, scores of tributes have been paid to Mr Hehir, with his efforts in regenerating the waterfront and bringing a university to Ipswich highly praised.

Liz Harsant's eulogy to James Hehir:

“I worked closely with James as leader of Ipswich Borough Council for nearly five years and we went through some pretty tough times together but I always trusted him and he was always there to give me support and encouragement.

“One piece of unfinished business which James was so passionate about is the possibility of a unitary authority for Ipswich.

“This often led to a great deal of amusement to those closely involved in the unitary debate �- James enthusiastically increased the population of Ipswich on a daily basis from its probable 120,000 to sometimes 160,000, but James took our teasing in good faith and joined in the banter.

“All of us and especially the staff and councillors remain bewildered by his sudden death.

“He was immensely proud of the staff at the borough and he took great pride in his ability to get on with everyone and unfailingly supported people in their career aspirations.

“There are a vast number of chief executives, directors and other senior staff around the country whose careers James helped to shape.

“But for me it is the number of staff who have come up to me and told me stories of his kindness to them when life for them was pretty grim and I think this is reflected in the Book of Condolence in Grafton House and this demonstrates brilliantly the way he touched so many lives and careers - and not just people in management jobs.

“James did more than any chief executive could ever be expected to do for Ipswich.

“Both visionary and utterly pragmatic, he loved the town and was passionate about its future.

“Quite simply, if it hadn't been for James we wouldn't have a fantastic university here on the Waterfront, nor would we have our wonderful new DanceHouse just along the quayside and Suffolk New College.

“James impacted upon all our lives in nothing but a very positive manner but today our thoughts are with his family.

“I remember only too well how thrilled he was when his first grandchild was born and then the excitement earlier this year when two more little ones came along - the excitement over Sam's wedding, such a happy year and now this desperately sad ending - we cannot start to imagine what you are going through but our hearts go out to you and you are in our prayers.

“I enjoyed his friendship and I will really miss him.

“And although I know it is a clich� to say at a memorial service such as this that we will never see the likes of him again, but actually we wont, the irrepressible, irreplaceable James Hehir.”

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