Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionist honorary president May Steele who 'embodied' the party dies at 83

Selfless: May Steele
Selfless: May Steele
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Tributes have been paid to May Steele, the honorary president of the Ulster Unionist Party, following her death at the age of 83.

Mrs Steele, who passed away on Monday, was from Browns Bay, Islandmagee, Co Antrim, and had been in failing health for some time.

Born May Beattie in Larne, she was synonymous with the UUP in Co Antrim since the 1950s, holding many positions within the party locally.

She was a long-serving party officer and chair of the Ulster Women's Unionist Council.

Mrs Steele was the dearly-loved wife of the late Sam, sister of John and the late Kate and stepmother of Helen.

UUP leader Steve Aiken, who is MLA for South Antrim, said that Mrs Steele "embodied" the party, and despite her poor health still made every effort to attend meetings.

"Although she had been in failing health over recent years, she still made a point of trying to get out to attend meetings and conferences, right up to the EGM of the Ulster Unionist Council in Templepatrick in early November, where I was elected leader," he said. "May's many friends within the Ulster Unionist family will miss her dearly and I send my deepest sympathy to her family circle.

"Her contribution to the party and her sage advice to successive Ulster Unionist leaders will always be appreciated and remembered."

Mrs Steele, who worked as a manager in Royal Mail, was the widow of Sam Steele, a councillor in Carrickfergus and later deputy mayor of Larne.

She was a UUP representative on the Northern Ireland Forum between 1996 and 1998 after the body was established in the negotiations which led up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mrs Steele narrowly missed out on election to the Assembly after the signing of the Agreement but was known as a loyal supporter of then leader David Trimble and his predecessors.

She was present in Oslo when Mr Trimble was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with John Hume, and was given the honorary title of president by former party leader Mike Nesbitt in 2016 as recognition of her many years of voluntary service to the Ulster Unionist Party.

UUP chairman Danny Kennedy praised Mrs Steele, describing her as a "very dedicated and loyal member" of the party.

"The entire party will join me in offering our sympathies and condolences to her family at this sad time," he continued.

UUP vice-chairman Roy McCune added: "May was a colleague and friend for many years. She was someone who I had enormous respect for.

"May gave selfless service and was a leading and outstanding figure in the party. Her work, commitment and support for the party is legendary.

"She will be sadly missed and fondly remembered by all who had the privilege and pleasure of knowing and working with her."

A service of thanksgiving will be held on Friday in 2nd Islandmagee Presbyterian Church at 1.30pm followed by committal at Islandmagee Cemetery.

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