Wexford has paid tribute to the late Michael 'Noel' Dillon, the former county manager and architect of the modern Wexford, with the development of the Woodenworks, Redmond Square and the Irish National Heritage Park among his many achievements during his 17-year tenure.
Elected Members, staff and former staff at Wexford County Council and throughout the public service generally said in a tribute to him they were saddened to hear of his death of Mr. Dillon who passed away peacefully on Monday, May 18.
Noel Dillon took up his appointment as Wexford County Manager on the June 1, 1976 and was only the third person to hold the office following its establishment in 1942. Both his predecessors, T.D. Sinnott and T.F. Broe, had distinguished public service careers, achieving much for County Wexford, and it was quickly apparent that Noel Dillon was to follow suit, making a remarkable contribution to local government in Wexford during his time as County Manager.
It was obvious from the start that Noel had 'his own style' and was quick to outline his aims and objectives which included urban renewal, environmental awareness and increased community involvement in the promotion of tourism for the county.
Under his administration and as a direct result of his of his imaginative approach Wexford took the inaugural Environmental Award in 1981 for the 'Keep Wexford Beautiful Campaign', an environmental initiative which runs to this day. Other great achievements included the Abbey Street and Redmond Square Urban Renewal Schemes, the award-winning Mount George and Walnut Grove housing schemes and of course the re-development of Wexford Town's quay front, over which many a battle was fought and which is viewed today as one of the finest examples of urban amenity development in Ireland.
The latter project was controversial at the time, and excited much public debate. Never one for acquiescing quietly, Noel strongly presented his vision for Wexford's Woodenworks and encouraged all parties to follow his leadership. The following extract from the local papers of the time gives a small taste of Noel's inimitable style, his endless courage and his unique ability to lead those of differing opinions in a common direction:
The Co. Manager didn't come to sit, listen and reply politely to criticisms of his main drainage and marina plans for the harbour. He adopted the Welsh rugby axiom - retaliate first. He resolutely defended his plan to remove the woodenworks and replace the old structure with an extended quayfront; promenade, car park, and marina.
'The promenade was a unique seafront development appropriate to tomorrow's world,' he added, and he had to plan to bring Wexford into the 21st century.'
And he warned his opponents: 'If the wrong decision is promulgated then Wexford is shooting itself in the foot. Let us not wallow in silt and mud just because we missed the boat.'
Noel also spearheaded the Redmond Square and Westgate developments in Wexford Town and was instrumental in the development of the Irish National Heritage Park at Ferrycarrig.
Very early in his career, Noel Dillon realised that his ideas and goals needed to be supported by all if they were to have a chance of success and that the goodwill of the public was vital. Good public relations were therefore an important element in winning support from the community and he encouraged all staff to cooperate enthusiastically and positively with the public in all aspects of Council activity to consistently enhance the reputation of the Council.
Throughout his illustrious career, Noel maintained a very strong relationship with the elected members of the Council. He always welcomed the views and opinions of the elected members, and while he may not have always agreed with these views, Noel always respected the Councillor's democratic mandate and position, and instilled that same respectful approach throughout the entire organisation.
In turn, the Members of Wexford County Council maintained a strong loyalty to their County Manager, supporting his stance on many contentious issues and respecting his position at all times. The excellent professional relationship between the Council's Executive and the Council's elected members was much enhanced during Noel's tenure, and many lifelong friendships were forged between Manager and Councillor. Many of those members who served with Noel over a long number of years were in Cork last week to pay their respects, and Noel would certainly have enjoyed the many stories that were recounted in his honour as they paid tribute to him.
During the many years he spent in Wexford, Noel Dillon became a conspicuous part of County Wexford: his work, his leisure and his family lives were all centred in the County. In April 1993 he left Wexford to take up the position of County Manager in his home county of Cork, having given 17 years of loyal, enthusiastic and dedicated service to the people of Wexford.
In recent days many well deserved tributes have been paid to Noel Dillon. He has been described as a visionary, a man ahead of his time, a charismatic leader and an unashamed exponent of excellence in public service delivery. We have also heard the many stories that show us the other side of Noel Dillon, the caring, kind, compassionate and fair minded person who built the reputation of the Council, earning unstinting loyalty and respect whenever he spoke and wherever he went.
Those who knew him salute him. Those who heard of him marvel at his achievements. All of us miss him.
Noel, who moved to Cork when he left Wexford, is survived by his wife Delia and children, Michael, Elaine, Jane, Conor and Niall. He is sadly missed by them and sisters Maureen, Carmel and Frances, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces, other relatives and his many friends.
'Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.'
Caption: Noel Dillon pictured in Wexford in 2003 when he returned to attend a retirement function for then-county manager Seamus Dooley.