Peter Weir: My friend Christopher Stalford was a true unionist but not a two dimensional political ideologue

I have known Christopher Stalford all of his adult life, and been his friend throughout.

Christoper Stalford, left, and Peter Weir, right, at a Royal Black demonstration in 2012. 
Picture by Brian Little
Christoper Stalford, left, and Peter Weir, right, at a Royal Black demonstration in 2012. Picture by Brian Little

I first met him at Stormont in the late 1990s, when he was still at school, and a frequent visitor to Stormont with his friend and constituency predecessor Mark Robinson MLA.

As a student he was a bit of a political geek, with a depth of knowledge and analysis of local, national and international politics that belied his youth, equally at home discussing the latest developments in Washington or Westminster, as he was with Sandy Row or Stormont . As with many of us who were involved in politics from a young age, he initially came across as a bit square and we often joked that he started off middle aged and became younger with age.

He came from a close and loving family, but was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and achieved his many successes through hard work and ability. Indeed, from early meetings his intelligence, talent and potential shone through, which was why as soon as I joined the DUP in 2002, I headhunted him to work for me, first as a student, and then after graduation, becoming his first employer.

His subsequent rise in politics, through Belfast City Council. High Sheriff, Deputy Mayor and MLA filled me with pride but given his abilities no little surprise. When he became Principal Deputy Speaker he was filled with joy, not least because he knew the pleasure it would give his much loved family.

Christopher was someone who cared about his city and his community. Although he moved house several times, it was always within Belfast itself. He was passionately committed to delivering for his constituents, and was a fearsome debater, who could deliver an argument with clarity, passion and wit. He was a true Unionist and Orangeman through and through, and if you had cut him in two he would have had DUP written through him like a stick of rock.

He was not however a two dimensional political ideologue. Although he never swayed in his unionist convictions, his friendships and courtesy cut across the political spectrum. Indeed one of his sparring partners from Queens, Mary Durkan who became an SDLP Councillor in Londonderry, would be sure to ask me any time I met her “How is Stalfie doing?” The breadth of tributes paid to Christopher is a measure of the respect he engendered throughout the political world and beyond.

Christopher was a Bon viveur and good company, a man with a wide hinterland of interests, and hidden depths as anyone who has heard him perform Sinatra in karaoke can testify. He was also a man of quiet, untrumpeted kindness. When my mother died a few months ago, knowing that I would be alone, he insisted that I spend Christmas Day with him and his family, That was the Christopher that lay behind the public image.

Above all he was a devoted family man, who glowed with love and pride for his beloved wife Laura and their four children. The country has lost a great representative, I have lost a great friend, but it is the loss of a husband, father, son and brother that will be most keenly felt and cruelly missed. Goodbye Christopher and thanks for everything.

Peter Weir is a DUP MLA for Strangford

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