“YOU could take Liz out of Coleraine...but never Coleraine out of Liz.”
These are the proud words of her husband of 54 years, Bertie, following the dedication of the Liz Johnston Suite in Council headquarters in Cloonavin last Tuesday afternoon.
Liz’s family and friends, councillors and Council officers gathered at Cloonavin for the official renaming the public registration suite after the hugely popular former Coleraine mayor and UUP councillor - known to many as simply ‘Big Liz’.
It’s almost two years since Liz passed away and the occasion was both a proud and emotional time for everyone gathered particularly those closest to her.
The first President of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association Liz was also totally focused on the needs of Coleraine people and was tireless in her efforts to improve the health and well being of everyone in the community.
Bertie said that although he found the prospect of attending the function a little daunting he added, “Liz would have loved it.”
He added: “It was very nice gesture of Council to do this for her and Liz would have been very happy and proud to have been honoured in this way.
“She was very much a people person. Anyone she could have helped she did and when she was alive the phone in the house never stopped. I miss the big woman.”
Among the invited guests were close family members including Liz’s son, Wilbert and her sister, Jean, who commended Council on both the timing and sentiments behind the civic gesture.
Jean told the Times: “Liz’s first thought when told that Council would do this for her would be - “they are not”. Then she would have been embarrassed and then a little tear would run down her cheeks and she’d have said “Aww it’s awful good of them.”
Jean said that naming the registration suite after her sister was very fitting because it was “a place of joy.”
“Everyone loved sitting with Liz at a dinner or a function because she always had a joke and was good craic. She also had a great eye for detail, people would say Liz Johnston will get that thing done.
“Liz would always say to me that she was so proud of me when she was living but I was so proud of her and the family is so proud that she has been honoured in this way.
In her closing words about Liz, Jean said:
“There are some who bring such a great light with them into the world
“That even after they have gone, the light remains.
“It wasn’t just her lovely ways that made her loved so much,
“It wasn’t just the joy she spread, nor her kind and gentle touch,
“It was everything about her, that made her what she was -
“Much loved by every one of us, unique, beyond compare.”
The Mayor, alderman Maurice Bradley, was joined by Liz’s family and various party representatives to deliver a series of fitting tributes to their friend and colleague.
He told the guests: “If Liz were with us today, the last thing she would want would be sadness, and as we re-name this suite in honour of Liz, let us think of the many, many happy memories we have of her.
“You know, in today’s society, we don’t often enough pause to say thanks.
“I believe it is right to say thanks, and to show thanks to those who have helped us along our way or just to say thanks for being a friend.
“Today is a special occasion. We are saying thank-you to Liz, for all the happy memories, the friendships, the banter in and out of the chamber and the personality that was Liz.”
The mayor added: “Liz often remarked how Ballymena had the ‘Big Man’, and Coleraine had the ‘Big Woman’. Those were indeed true words, Liz was our big woman and while many of us knew her in different ways, as a loving wife and mother, a devoted sister, a council colleague, there are many amongst us, who, like me, enjoyed being in her company.
“I enjoyed the way Liz lit up the room when she entered, her constant smile, her sense of humour and above all her tremendous zest for life itself. Liz’s glass was always half full, never half empty.”
Among the councillors paying tribute to Liz during the occasion were her UUP colleague, Norman Hillis, successor, David Harding, close friend, David McClarty, Toye Black and James McClure who dubbed her affectionately “old foxy”. Each shared their loving memories of Liz and felt that the naming of the Liz Johnston Suite would provide a fitting legacy to her work.
The inscription on the plaque reads: “The Liz Johnston Suite, Mrs E A Johnston served as a Councillor in the Borough of Coleraine from 1993 to 2009. She held the office of Mayor from 2000 to 2001. This room is named in memory of the selfless commitment that Liz gave to all of the citizens of this Borough. She loved Coleraine and she loved its people. It is a fitting legacy that Council’s registration suite bears her name.”