The Lord Lieutenant of Belfast
I got to know Mary when I was based in Belfast as the National Athletics Coach for Northern Ireland. Having an Olympic Champion on our doorstep was great for Northern Ireland Athletics and Mary did a lot to support the sport locally including running a trust fund to support talented young athletes.
My relationship with Mary moved from that of being colleagues to being friends shortly after I stepped down as Northern Ireland National Coach. In 1992, I joined the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and was asked to work closely with Mary on the Ulster Games Foundation. Mary chaired the Foundation’s Board whilst I was Company Secretary. The Ulster Games Foundation using a mix of public and private funding supported international sports events to come to Northern Ireland. Mary and I shared a passion for sport and enjoyed being able to support international sports competitions in Northern Ireland.
This initiative was held as part of Britain Means Business week and Mary joined us as an ambassador for the British Council. During the week she tirelessly took part in visits to schools, universities, informal settlements, and a series of formal Britain Means Business week events. One of the highlights was a lunch in Parliament with MPs with a particular interest in sport. It was at this lunch that Danny Jordan, Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, announced that he was resigning as a Member of Parliament to take up the post of CEO at the Sout African Football Association.
Mary was such a great success during this initiative that the British Council invited her to continue working with them in an ambassadorial role.
Dame Mary will be only the ninth Lord Lieutenant of Belfast since the role was created in 1900.
Mary is reported to have said: “I just find it quite amazing that I should be put in this position. A wee girl from a very average background to be the Queen’s representative in Belfast is just extraordinary. I feel very humbled by it. I would say a lot of former Lord Lieutenants have been from the aristocracy and I just think that maybe the time is right for somebody with a different background to take on the role.”
There is no doubt that this is a fantastic honour for Mary, but is is also a fantastic honour for sport.