Former head of UK civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, dies at 56

By on 05/11/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Former UK cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood.

The death of the former UK Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, was announced on Sunday.

Sir Jeremy was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017 but continued in his role for a further year until June 2018, when he took leave of absence to receive treatment. He officially took retirement and left his post just two weeks ago, on 24 October, saying he was stepping down “with great sadness” on medical advice. In a gesture of respect he was awarded a life peerage, becoming Lord Heywood of Whitehall.

Sir Mark Sedwill, Heywood’s successor as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, said he was an “exemplary public servant”, and had made an “immense contribution to public life, serving four prime ministers with distinction.”

Stellar career

Indeed, Heywood showed a remarkable ability to win the trust of politicians of all parties during his 35-year civil service career. Initially joining the Health and Safety Executive as an economist, by the age of 30 he was the Treasury’s key ministerial private secretary. His senior roles include those of Private Secretary to the Prime Minister; Head of Corporate and Management Change at HM Treasury; and Principal Private Secretary to Chancellors Norman Lamont and Kenneth Clarke. He also spent time at the International Monetary Fund and at Morgan Stanley.

He worked closely with four British prime ministers – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May – and served Labour, Conservative and coalition governments.


The reaction to his death made clear how widely Heywood was respected across the political divide.

Prime Minister Theresa May said news of his death on Sunday morning was “extremely sad” and paid tribute to his “extraordinary talent.”

“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”, she said.

Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper, a minister until 2010, was given news of his death live on air during an interview for Sky News. In an emotional statement, she said: “His contribution to public life for all governments, whatever your politics, was immense. I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Former Liberal Democrat MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tweeted: “Through the five years I worked with him, he served the two sides of the coalition with great loyalty and objectivity, which was not always easy. He is a huge loss to the integrity and professionalism of our civil service.”

Former Chancellor George Osborne said on Twitter: “One of the things I treasure from my time in government was the chance to work with Jeremy Heywood. Brilliant, unorthodox, creative and unbelievably hard working – he gave his all to serve our nation. So sad he has died so young. Suzanne and his lovely children are in our prayers.”

Global Government Forum will publish a full obituary shortly. Meanwhile, our sympathies and condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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