Renowned Northern Ireland artist Colin Davidson has recalled the late Lord Trimble’s warmth while he was sitting for a portrait in the last weeks of his life.
He subsequently undertook an academic career at the university, lecturing in law, before he entered frontline politics.
Lord Trimble’s painting will now hang permanently in Queen’s Great Hall as a tribute to the Nobel Peace Prize recipient and an annual lecture will be held in his memory.
The former Ulster Unionist leader played a key role, along with the late SDLP leader John Hume, in negotiating the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.
While he was vilified at the time by many in the unionist community, including some in his own party, for the concessions he made to help secure the deal, he is today widely praised for his role.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Davidson said it was a privilege to have painted Lord Trimble’s portrait, which now hangs alongside other notable alumni such as Seamus Heaney, Mary McAleese and former QUB chancellor Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the Good Friday Agreement negotiations.
“I met Lord Trimble along with his wife, Daphne, at their home a few times. That’s where we had the sittings for the painting. I was actually struck by how warm he was,” Mr Davidson said.
“We talked for hours. He had an immense love of classical music and for opera. Looking around the room you could see all the records, CDs and hi-fi system.
“He educated me in that regard and he spoke about all the places he had visited with Daphne to see the opera.
“He was a very humble person, given all his achievements. With regret, we look back now and see that he was in the twilight of his life, so I think he was probably thinking about all those things himself. He was certainly noticeably slower, more considered, than the person I would have seen on television.
“I’m not in politics at all, but as a citizen of Northern Ireland I know he paid a huge, personal price for peace here and I think that’s what his legacy will be. You’re building all of that into the painting I made. I was very aware of him as a public figure here, of course — our first First Minister.”
The artist said it was important to capture Lord Trimble with honesty when painting his likeness.
“I hope the painting captures him at a different point of his life, where he is thinking of different things than he was years ago. I wanted to be as honest as I could in painting the person I was just getting to know,” he said.
Speaking at the unveiling of his portrait last month, Lord Trimble reflected on the 1998 peace accord, which, he said, has “survived almost 25 years despite objections to some parts of it”.
“The Good Friday Agreement is something which everybody in Northern Ireland has been able to agree with,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean they agree with everything — there are aspects which some people thought were a mistake — but the basic thing is that this was agreed. That is there. People are actually not throwing the Agreement to pieces; their complaints are still based on the existence of the Agreement. They are not saying, ‘Throw it out,’ so that’s the thing to bear in mind.”
Another portrait of Lord Trimble, painted by Irish artist David Nolan, hangs in the Members’ Dining Room at Stormont, close to a portrait of Seamus Mallon, who served alongside him as Deputy First Minister.
A special sitting of the Assembly will take place on Tuesday for MLAs to pay tribute.
At Stormont yesterday, current UUP leader Doug Beattie laid flowers underneath a portrait of Lord Trimble, before pausing for a moment of silent reflection.
Mr Beattie said that Lord Trimble had maintained his passion for politics and reconciliation right up until his death.
He said: “In the conversations that I had with him, even as frail as he’d become in the last number of months, there was a fire in his eyes for politics, there was a fire in his eyes for peace in Northern Ireland and there was a fire in his eyes to try to heal the divisions which blighted this part of the United Kingdom.
“He was a great unionist. He was a great politician. Many of those from the party that I have spoken to are genuinely feeling his loss today and will need to come to terms with it over the next number of days.”