Hugh Casey made history as first Catholic mayor of Craigavon

Hugh Casey, who became Craigavon's first Catholic mayor in 1996.
Hugh Casey, who became Craigavon's first Catholic mayor in 1996.

LURGAN man Hugh Casey, who became the first Catholic mayor of Craigavon, died at the weekend. He was 85.

And although proud of his role as First Citizen Hugh never forgot his humble beginnings.

“He took people as he found them,” said his son Sean. “There were no airs or graces about him.”

Sean described his father as a much loved family man by all his sons and daughters, 18 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.

“He was fully supported in all he did by his late wife Ita and the whole family,” added Sean.

“His recognition with the MBE was a moment of great pride for the entire family circle.

“It was for a man who selflessly gave to others his time, his passion and his great belief in community.

“His faith was important in his life and he always believed the Lord was driving and delivering his vision through him and through people.”

The MBE Hugh received was in recognition for his services to the community.

While working as a community project manager in Lurgan he was elected as an SDLP councillor in Craigavon in 1989 and in 1996, when he was an independent councillor, he became the first Catholic Mayor of Craigavon.

In 2008 he retired as Chief Executive Director of Mount Zion House.

At the time it was said that Lurgan would miss - after 31 years working in the community - the massive contribution he had made to the life in the town and across the province.

He was a driving force in the foundation of the Shankill Community Association, the forerunner of the Shankill Community Projects.

He started working in housing matters in the 1970s which led him to help establish the community association in 1977.

From there the organisation grew to the development of Mount Zion House helping hundreds of people a week.

The Mount Zion House project is also widely acknowledged to have played an important role in developing cross-community relations and Lurgan’s economy.

Hugh had a long history of working in the community and also across the province. He took part in the Stormont talks and was invited to the White House where he met the American President at the time, Bill Clinton.

He even went to South Africa to sample their truth and reconciliation processes and he met the South African President, Nelson Mandela.

“He was very proud of the fact that he met Bill Clinton and President Mandela,” said Sean.

Originally from Mary Street in Lurgan Hugh left school at 14 and worked as Warp Knitting engineer. He worked in England and Dublin and at the UK Optical and Pinehurst in Lurgan.

But he was best known as an insurance salesman where he became known as the ‘Polo mint man’. The moniker stems from instances when Hugh was collecting insurance and if there was a dog at the house, he would always have a Polo mint with him to drop so the dog would not bother him.

He also took time to study through the Open University.

A Freecrow man he was a member of St Peter’s GAA club and with a great interest in music was involved in forming groups to take part in the Scor competitions.

“He was always the first to volunteer for a song or two, or ten,” said Sean. “He used to organise holidays for senior citizens and part of the entertainment was his singing. He loved entertaining people.”

An avid Manchester United fan Hugh was a soccer referee for many years.

He was also a great lover of bowls and was a founder member of the St Paul’s indoor club and a President of the Lurgan outdoor bowling club.

For four years he was President of the Full Gospel Businessman’s Federation.

But it was with his work within the community that Hugh made a lasting impression.

He was always there to help people who were in trouble and his door was always open to people, wherever they came from.

After his retirement Hugh still took a great interest in what was happening at Mount Zion, even after he took ill just before Christmas.

“Even in his hospital bed he was giving advice and guidance,” said Sean. “He was a great man who placed all his trust in the Lord.”

Hugh, from Hawthorn Avenue, was predeceased by his wife Ita. He had seven children, Angela, Gerald, Pauline, Donnell, Moya, Brenda and Sean.

His funeral was on Wednesday at St Peter’s Church with interment in St Colman’s Cemetery.