Lord David Trimble 1944 – 2022: a tribute written by Emeritus Professor Robert Service

David Trimble, former first minister of Northern Ireland and Ulster Unionist Party leader was one of the architects of the Good Friday agreement. He was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1998 jointly with the nationalist leader John Hume.

Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s, Professor Robert Service remembers David fondly in the following tribute:

David Trimble was a Visiting Parliamentary Fellow at St Antony’s College in 2009-2010.   He put heart and soul into participating in the seminar series on the theme of ‘God and Caesar’.

His attentiveness to the underpinnings of any argument was no surprise to anyone who had followed his career in the Ulster Unionist Party and the negotiations that resulted in the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement.  But what also came across to the regular audience was his essential decency in encouraging a wide-ranging debate with nothing being off-limits – he disproved his own reputation as a crusty sectarian.  A shy man, he was often slow to show his feelings, but when something tickled his fancy there was often an eruption of laughter.  He was, like many Ulstermen, good at getting his message across by pointful jovial anecdote.  

He was intellectually forceful. If a sloppy analysis was proposed, he quickly disassembled it.  He liked to compare and contrast his Northern Ireland experience with other trouble spots in the world, and we often talked about the ones of the former Soviet Union.  He had a thirst for knowledge and understanding, and I was honoured that he and his wife came to one of my book launches, when, characteristically, he found time to engage people in questions bothering him about present-day Russia. 

Above all, I shall remember him for the way he treated everyone on an equal footing, remembering names and conversations as a matter of common courtesy.  He usually came to Oxford on an early afternoon train so that he could browse the opera stock in Blackwells Music shop. He was fondly devoted to Elvis Presley. And he loved the freedom from the Westminster hurly-burly which he and his wife Daphne gained by buying a narrow boat. The College was lucky to have David’s presence for a memorable year and our condolences are sent to Daphne and the family.

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