Hundreds remember 'visionary' James

HUNDREDS of mourners from across the country today said farewell to “the visionary” James Hehir, Ipswich borough council's chief executive who died two weeks' ago at the age of 61.

Graham Dines

HUNDREDS of mourners from across the country today said farewell to “the visionary” James Hehir, Ipswich borough council's chief executive who died two weeks' ago at the age of 61.

Mr Hehir had overseen the changing face of Ipswich for the past 20 years, and he is widely credited with having the ambition which saw the establishment of University College Suffolk, the rebuilding of Suffolk New College, and the regeneration of the historic waterfront which included headquarters for DanceEast .

The memorial service took place at the civic church of St Mary-le-Tower in the heart of the town, following a private funeral service last week in Holbrook.

Councillors and officers from Suffolk's county and district councils joined with representatives of commerce and industry in Ipswich, MPs, borough council staff, families and friends. To accommodate everyone who wanted to join the service, it was relayed by satellite link to the Corn Exchange.

Council leader Liz Harsant described Mr Hehir as “both visionary and utterly pragmatic - he loved the town and was passionate about its future.

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“If it hadn't been for James, we wouldn't have a fantastic university here on the Waterfront, nor would we have our wonderful 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.”

Other tributes were paid by Deborah Cadman, chief executive of the East of England Development Agency and Crawford Gillan, a personal friend and former editor of the Evening Star with whom Mr Hehir attended rugby international at Twickenham.

Readings were given by 13 year-old Philippa McLeod, a pupil at DanceEast, borough council director Laurence Collins, and Professor Dave Muller, principal of Suffolk New College.

In his address, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Rt Rev. Nigel Stock, said Mr Hehir was “a thread of continuity who made sure things happened in this community.”

He said that in Mr Hehir, the purpose, character and drive of Ipswich were exemplified.

Among those present in the church were the mayor of Ipswich David Goldsmith, Ipswich MPs Sir Michael Lord and Chris Mole, county council chairman Joanna Spicer, county leader Jeremy Pembroke, county chief executive Andrea Hill, and Westminster city council's chief executive who was formerly county boss, Mike More.

The service was led by Canon Charles Jenkin, the vicar of St Mary-le-Tower, and prayers were said at the Corn Exchange by the Rev. Paul Daltry, Church of England minister for church and community engagement.