Prime ministers lead tributes to former Civil Service chief Sir Jeremy Heywood

Senior figures from across the political spectrum have paid tribute to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the former head of the Civil Service who served four prime ministers, after his death at the age of 56.

Theresa May, David Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all hailed the tireless work and support of the ex-cabinet secretary, who passed away on Sunday from cancer.

The announcement came just days after he had retired after decades as one of Whitehall’s most senior mandarins in roles that led to him being regarded as a key behind-the-scenes influence in the shaping of modern Britain.

Mrs May hailed his impact on the country, saying: “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.

“He worked tirelessly to serve our country in the finest traditions of the Civil Service and he is a huge loss to British public life.

“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.”

Sir Jeremy had been Cabinet Secretary since 2012 and previously served as principal private secretary to prime ministers Blair and Brown, chief of staff to Mr Brown and Downing Street permanent secretary to David Cameron.

Jeremy Heywood death
Jeremy Heywood death

He revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer in June 2017, but remained in post during a summer of political upheaval triggered by the shock general election result.

He took a leave of absence in June and announced on October 24 that he was stepping down, with acting Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill taking over the role on a permanent basis.

Sir Jeremy was nominated for a peerage by Mrs May as Lord Heywood of Whitehall after his retirement in recognition of his distinguished service to public life.

Mr Blair said Sir Jeremy had been “a quite outstanding public servant and someone I came to have enormous respect for both as a professional and as a person”.

The former Labour leader said: “He worked with more prime ministers and at a more senior level than any civil servant in recent memory and served us all with integrity, distinction and infinite commitment.

“He was dedicated, smart and with a rare small ‘p’ political skill which made him such a formidable Whitehall operator.

“The British Civil Service and all of us who worked with him will miss him deeply.”

Desperately sad news about Sir Jeremy Heywood. 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.

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) November 4, 2018

Mr Brown described him as “a leader of exceptional ability, unquestioned integrity and – as we saw in the way he fought his illness – remarkable courage”, adding: “Jeremy Heywood was the most dynamic civil servant of his generation, a leader who inspired confidence, whose expertise was recognised by all and whose impartiality was never in doubt.”

And Mr Cameron said: “He was an amazing man, brilliant civil servant and dedicated to our country. It was a privilege to work with him.”

In a statement released on Sunday via Downing Street, his wife Suzanne paid tribute to a man who “crammed a huge amount into his 56 years” and “loved his work as a civil servant and was hugely proud of his colleagues”.

She added: “He was a wonderful father, treasuring both time at home and travelling with our children, sharing with them his love of discovering new places, which he gained during his two years in Washington.

“He gave them a mix of challenge, a little teasing, total devotion and deserved praise. And he was a devoted son and a beloved and loving brother and uncle, always finding time to help, encourage and inspire.

“For me, he was my wonderful partner for 22 years. We shared everything and I will miss him more than I can say.”