RIP Sir Jeremy Heywood
04 November 2018 10:53
I wrote recently in this column to congratulate Sir Jeremy Heywood on his remarkable career at the apex of government, as the news broke of his retirement as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service. On the same day I sent a text to Jeremy wishing him all the best and expressing the hope that his cancer would soon be in remission and that he could take up his seat in the House of Lords. He did not reply, which was uncharacteristic. Punctiliousness was his trademark. I hoped fervently that he was devoting all his energies to recovery.
Alas, that recovery did not come and the news of his death, aged 56, was announced this morning. The greatest loss is to his family, to whom we send our deepest condolences. But the nation is also depleted by his death. Few public figures of Jeremy Heywood’s stature, intellect and civic stamina come along in a generation. The fact that his work was performed away from the noisy crucible of Parliament, in the offices of Whitehall, is irrelevant.
He served this country – in close partnership with four successive Prime Ministers – as well as any elected politician of our era. As the political class tipped into polarised madness over Brexit, his formidable leadership was more important than ever. It was Heywood and his officials who kept the country running as their political masters went on extended leave from reality.
To adapt Pericles on the Athenians: he did not copy, but he was a model to others.