Tandragee woman was first female Mayor of Armagh
THE first woman to be elected Mayor of Armagh - Mrs Heather Black of Tandragee - has died after a long illness. The veteran DUP politician, who was 84, made the post of First Citizen in 1995 and was well known throughout Northern Ireland politics.
Mrs Black was in her early 60s when she first made the council in 1989, an occasion tinged with personal sadness. She was co-opted on the death of her husband Thomas who represented the Cusher Ward, which includes Tandragee, Markethill, Hamiltonsbawn and Laurelvale. After that, she was elected in her own right in four successive polls until she stepped down through ill health in 2010.
She was awarded the MBE in 2007 for her services to local government. It was a real thrill, with the award presented at Buckingham Palace by the Prince of Wales. She was accompanied to London by her granddaughter Hilary Colner and Hilary’s husband Adrian. They were the guests of the Northern Ireland DUP MPs for dinner at Westminster, with David Simpson of Upper Bann the main host.
Mrs Black served in various roles in Armagh council - including the District Policing Partnership (DPP), NILGA (the NI Association of Local Authorities) and EU matters - and her crowning glory was as the first female Mayor in a council where the ethos was sharing the Chain around the various parties.
However, the previous year - as Deputy Mayor - saw her greatest thrill in politics, as she was the main host of the Queen when Her Majesty visited the Primatial City. One of her duties was to direct the Queen to the loo. That was her favourite story.
Even though she had retired from politics, Mrs Black was delighted that Armagh was elevated to select a ‘Lord Mayor’ during the past year, a position which was confirmed during the Mayoralty of Freda Donnelly (DUP) and to which Sharon Haughey (SDLP) was elected in June - Mrs Black was forever proud that she was the first woman to wear the Chain of Office and blazed the female trail.
Her fellow DUP councillor and Newry-Armagh MLA William Irwin said, “Mrs Black was an extremely capable, diligent and caring public representative - a real character with whom Armagh City and District Council was enriched. She worked tirelessly for her constituents, and her MBE was fully warranted. She was direct, and loved the political scene.”
She was a founder member of DUP and had an intense interest in politics, although she did not enter the representative arena until the death of Thomas, also a founder member of the party. But she was always interested in the political life of her area and of Northern Ireland.
Heather Black (nee Woods) was one of a family of seven and the last survivor. She was devastated in October 2012 when the last of her siblings - Sidney and John - passed away within a week of one another. Her mother died after she gave birth to the youngest of the family and her father passed away a year later when Heather was just 10. She was brought up by a great-aunt.
The young Heather Woods attended Derrycarne Primary School and Drumcree Parish Church - several generations of the family were buried in Drumcree Cemetery. And she worked for Denny’s Bacon Factory at Obins Street, Portadown, for 34 years, before and after her marriage.
She met her future husband Thomas at a wedding in the Dobbin (St Saviour’s) Church of Ireland - she was bridesmaid and Thomas was best man at the wedding of their friends Billy Weir and Pearl Atkinson. They initially set up home at Cornascreibe, Ahorey, and later at Portadown Road, Tandragee, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Initially, they were parishioners at Mullavilly Parish Church, and then at Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church.
Mrs Black is survived by her daughter Sheila Collen (Lisburn), by granddaughter Hilary and grandson Trevor, as well as great-grandchildren Cecily and Hugo.
The funeral service was at Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church on Thursday of last week, and was conducted by the minister, the Rev Samuel Murray, and interment was in the adjoining churchyard.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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