'˜I have seen the rich tapestry of life through Carrickfergus and enjoyed every minute'
'There is a saying that the history of Carrick is the history of Ulster writ small. I have seen the rich tapestry of life through Carrickfergus Borough Council and I have enjoyed every minute of it.'
That was the observation of veteran Councillor James (Jim) Brown MBE as Carrickfergus Borough Council came to an end in 2015, merging with Larne and Ballymena to form Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
Mr Brown, who has died following illness, was a member of Carrickfergus Council for almost 35 years before representing Carrick Castle on the new authority.
Formerly a leading figure in the UUP in Carrickfergus, the sometimes controversial but always colourful local politician latterly sat as an independent councillor.
Five times Mayor of the east Antrim coastal town, he was the main advocate in the Antrim Street chamber of the Carrickfergus waterfront development, which centred round converting the old commercial port into a mixed leisure, retail and residential location.
Reflecting on that period three years ago, Mr Brown said: “One of the biggest meetings I remember was in the late 80s around the time of the harbour dispute. It was over the whole issue of turning the seafront from a commercial harbour into the marina, and fears that jobs would be lost - although I argued at the time that more jobs would be created with the development of the marina.”
A series of protests around the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) also impacted the normal business of council, Mr Brown recalled too.
Although a hard-nosed elected representative who knew his way around the labyrinth of committees and sub-committees like few others, Jim Brown also possessed a mischievous sense of humour with many a public official, political foe and friend on the end of his witty repartee. “He wouldn’t know if he was blown up or stuffed” was one of his favourite barbs.
A past pupil of Carrickfergus Central Primary School and Carrickfergus Technical College, the former shopkeeper was named in the New Year honours list four years ago and was proud to attend Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE for services to local government.
A committed Christian, in the absence of the council chaplain he would lead prayers before meetings in the town hall.
Married to Esther, with two daughters, Alison and Louise, Jim is in his family’s words: “Safe in the arms of Jesus.”
Leading tributes to Mr Brown, who was 68, the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Council, UUP Cllr Lindsay Millar, said: “We were saddened to hear of the death of our colleague Mr Brown. Our thoughts are with his wife and family.
“He had been ill for some time and we extend our sympathy to his family and friends.”
Echoing these sentiments, East Antrim DUP MLA and a former Carrick first citizen, David Hilditch said: “When I first joined council, Jimmy Brown was one of the leading figures and I learnt from him.
“Though we crossed swords on issues at times, I enjoyed a friendship with him that endured up until his untimely death.”
Alliance MLA and former Greenisland councillor, Stewart Dickson commented: “I first met Jimmy in Carrickfergus Technical College in the 1960s and served on Carrickfergus Borough Council with him for many years. He spent the latter part of his life in politics and had a core of supporters that always ensured he was elected to council for a lengthy continuous spell over the course of various elections.
“We did not always see eye to eye politically on many issues, but I can honestly say he had the interests of the borough of Carrickfergus at heart. I know he had been ill for some time, and my sincere sympathy goes to his wife Esther and his family.”
Mr Brown’s funeral service will take place in Carrickfergus on Friday, August 10.