Local council legend Alderman Woolsey Smith bowed out of the Civic Centre on Monday night after serving the community with distinction since 1981.
The DUP man was roundly praised by all political parties, including SDLP and Sinn Fein, who know that Woolsey was never your archetypical politician, but a community man to the core.
He won’t be fighting the 2014 election to the super ABC (Armagh-Banbridge-Craigavon) council. “It’s far too big an area,” he said. “It won’t improve services, it won’t save money and it will lose its local character. The whole local political scene is weighed down with bureaucracy. You have to wriggle through too many officialdom hoops to achieve anything. And anyway, Father Time is moving on for me.”
In a moving farewell speech on Monday night, he looked back on a job well done, fuelled by his Christian faith. And he homed in on several campaigns he had fought, many with the help of the Portadown Times, which he graciously acknowledged.
And he especially thanked the then Mayor Sydney Anderson for planting a tree in 2009 to mark the 150th anniversary of Christian Revival, underlining that “only such a revival will solve the many, complex problems that Northern Ireland faces these days”.
He paid tribute especially to his family, including his son Councillor Robert Smith who has held the office of Mayor - a post once offered to Woolsey, but it wasn’t his scene.
It would have placed too much pressure on a man who is basically shy and knew he couldn’t countenance the hassle of chairing meetings. And he recalled the precious help of his late wife Mabel “who went to be with the Lord in 1999”.
In an interview with the Portadown Times, Woolsey - a personal friend of reporters - thanked us for helping him to win campaigns like the roundabouts at Killicomaine Road and Drumlin Hill, to establish pelican crossings close to residential homes, bus shelters, road improvements, Portadown Train Station, the Tandragee Road wartime pillbox restoration...
“We didn’t win them all,” he reflected. “We fought hard for the Newry Canal lock gates at Moneypenny’s to be replaced. And Portadown really needs its own bus depot, instead of the town centre being a glorified bus stop. But that’s for the new council, although I fear Portadown’s needs may be lost in the larger set-up.”
He is being replaced by DUP member Margaret Tinsley, who said, “He’s a real gentleman and worked so hard to improve the lot of his constituents. Woolsey is a one-off.”