Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and Prime Minister Theresa May have led tributes from across government to Lord Heywood after it was announced that the former cabinet secretary and head of the civil service died yesterday.
Heywood, who retired on 24 October following treatment for cancer, made an “an immense contribution to public life”, Sedwill, his successor as cabinet secretary, said in a statement.
“He joined the civil service in 1983, advising and supporting governments through some of the most challenging episodes of the last 30 years. Jeremy was the exemplary public servant. We will miss him more than we can say, and will be the poorer without his advice, leadership and extraordinary insight,” he said.
Heywood “set the highest standards and challenged us to meet them,” Sedwill, who had been acting cabinet secretary after Heywood took a leave of absence in June until his retirement last month.
“Jeremy was always looking to move difficult problems forward, restlessly confident to deliver a better way. He was a champion of innovation and embraced change while consolidating and protecting the best of history. He promoted a diverse and inclusive civil service, fit to meet the digital, commercial and policy challenges of the future,” Sedwill added.
“Jeremy also considered it a privilege to lead the hundreds of thousands of civil servants up and down the country, and across the world, who work day after day to make people’s lives better. We offer our condolences and best wishes to Jeremy’s wife Suzanne, his three children, the rest of his family and their friends.”
May, who is the fourth prime minister Heywood advised, said the many retirement tributes paid to Jeremy from across the political spectrum in recent weeks demonstrated his extraordinary talent supporting and advising prime ministers and ministers, and leading the civil service with distinction.
“I will always be grateful for the support which he gave me personally and will remember his achievements across his career as we regret that he did not have the chance to offer his talents for longer in retirement,” she added. “Jeremy will be sorely missed and I send my deepest condolences to Suzanne and the children and to all his family and many friends.”
Suzanne Heywood said that her husband had “crammed a huge amount into his 56 years”.
In a statement, she said: “He loved his work as a civil servant and was hugely proud of his colleagues while always believing that they – and he – could and should do more, that there had to be a better way, a new way of looking at things or a fresh approach which would bring differing sides together. Those who worked with him found it a challenging, inspiring and rewarding experience.
“He saw it as a huge privilege to work so closely with four prime ministers and two chancellors and was unwavering in his efforts to help each of them reach their goals. He was always conscious of the need for civil servants to see the world through ministers’ eyes while at the same time respecting the boundaries between politicians and civil servants.”
She said there would be a small private funeral in the coming weeks and a memorial service open to all at a later date.
“A brilliant civil servant and dedicated to our country”
Among the others to offer tributes to Heywood were former prime ministers David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, all of whom Heywood worked with at Number 10 as either cabinet secretary, permanent secretary at Number 10 or principal private secretary.
Cameron said it was “desperately sad news”
He added: “He was an amazing man, brilliant civil servant and dedicated to our country. It was a privilege to work with him. All our thoughts and love are with Suzanne and the children.”
Brown said that the country had lost a leader of exceptional ability, unquestioned integrity and remarkable courage
“Jeremy Heywood was a unique civil servant who may not always have agreed with ministers’ proposals but always offered a positive and often better alternative. He will be sorely missed for the remarkable contribution he has made to Britain,” he said, while Blair said Heywood had been “a quite outstanding public servant and someone I came to have enormous respect for both as a professional and as a person”. He said Heywood had been “dedicated, smart, and with a rare small ‘p’ political skill which made him such a formidable Whitehall operator.”
Heywood’s predecessor Sir Gus O’Donnell said Heywood was “a great, dedicated civil servant who worked tirelessly for his country, his political masters and his colleagues”.