Theresa May has led tributes to former head of the Civil Service Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has died from cancer aged 56.
Sir Jeremy, who spent four years as head of the Civil Service, passed away on Sunday, days after retiring through ill health.
His position as one of Whitehall’s most senior mandarins under four successive prime ministers has led him to be regarded as a key behind-the-scenes influence in the shaping of modern Britain.
He worked tirelessly to serve our country in the finest traditions of the Civil ServiceTheresa May
Mrs May hailed his impact on the country, saying: “The many retirement tributes paid to Jeremy from across the political spectrum in recent weeks demonstrated his extraordinary talent supporting and advising prime ministers and ministers, and leading the Civil Service with distinction.
“He worked tirelessly to serve our country in the finest traditions of the Civil Service and he is a huge loss to British public life.
“I will always be grateful for the support which he gave me personally and will remember his achievements across his career as we regret that he did not have the chance to offer his talents for longer in retirement.”
Sir Jeremy had been Cabinet Secretary since 2012 and previously served as principal private secretary to prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, chief of staff to Mr Brown and Downing Street permanent secretary to David Cameron.
He revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer in June 2017, but remained in post during a summer of political upheaval triggered by the shock general election result.
He took a leave of absence in June and announced on October 24 that he was stepping down, with acting Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill taking over the role on a permanent basis.
In a statement released on Sunday via Downing Street, his wife Suzanne paid tribute to a “wonderful father” who “crammed a huge amount into his 56 years”.
The country has lost a leader of exceptional ability, unquestioned integrity and - as we saw in the way he fought his illness - remarkable courage. Our hearts go out to Jeremy Heywoodâs family.— Gordon & Sarah Brown (@OfficeGSBrown) November 4, 2018
She said: “He saw it as a huge privilege to work so closely with four prime ministers and two chancellors and was unwavering in his efforts to help each of them reach their goals.
“He was always conscious of the need for civil servants to see the world through ministers’ eyes while at the same time respecting the boundaries between politicians and civil servants.
“Away from his work, he inspired admiration, respect and affection in his many and diverse group of friends and returned it to them.
“Jeremy could light up any room or conversation and loved hosting a good party.”
Saddened to hear that Sir Jeremy Heywood has passed away. It was a tremendous privilege to work with him in Government. He was well respected as Cabinet Secretary & head of the Civil Service. He served our Country with great professionalism & he was a dedicated public servant.— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) November 4, 2018
Sir Jeremy was nominated for a peerage by Mrs May as Lord Heywood of Whitehall after his retirement in recognition of his distinguished service to public life.
Former Treasury minister Yvette Cooper paid a tearful tribute to Sir Jeremy as the news of his death broke while she was appearing on Sky News’ Ridge show.
Ms Cooper said: “People will not be aware of quite how many remarkable things he did to steady crises, deal with some of the most difficult problems and as a very honourable public servant to hold people together and to make sure the Government frankly did not do stupid things on many occasions.
“His contribution to public life for all governments, whatever your politics, was immense and we owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Jeremy Heywood was a great civil servant. He put his intellect, professionalism & charm at the service of Ministers of all parties & was never afraid to give honest even if unwelcome advice. Thoughts, prayers & heartfelt sympathy to his family.— David Lidington (@DLidington) November 4, 2018
Sir Mark Sedwill, Sir Jeremy’s successor as Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, said he had made “an immense contribution to public life”, serving four prime ministers with distinction “through some of the most challenging episodes of the last 30 years”.
He added: “We will miss him more than we can say, and will be the poorer without his advice, leadership and extraordinary insight.
“He set the highest standards and challenged us to meet them. Jeremy was always looking to move difficult problems forward, restlessly confident to deliver a better way.”