Obituary: Chris Martin remembered by cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood pays tribute to the prime minister’s late principal private secretary Chris Martin, a remarkable official who embodied the enduring values of the civil service he loved

By Sir Jeremy Heywood

07 Dec 2015

Chris Martin, who died on 25 November, was quite simply one of the finest civil servants of his generation.

As David Cameron said in a heartfelt tribute to Chris at prime minister’s questions on the day he died, for the last four years of his life he was the "Bernard" of his day. But unlike the fictional Bernard from Yes, Minister, as his principal private secretary or “PPS”, Chris was totally dedicated to helping the prime minister achieve his mandate.

No-one could have worked harder, without fuss or ego, to serve the elected government of the day. During the coalition he played a vital role in keeping the show on the road, working closely with Nick Clegg's team. Even as he battled for months against cancer in 2014, he barely missed a day off work. He was often to be found at hospital, smoothly running the Number 10 machine from his iPhone while undergoing heavy duty chemotherapy. How we all marvelled at his extraordinary bravery and resilience.

Following this year’s general election, his cancer in remission, Chris quickly helped the prime minister and his team adjust to life running a single-party government. His total mastery of the consiglieri role (doubtless gleaned in part from multiple viewings of his favourite film, The Godfather), his remarkable agility of thought, his hard-headed realism, his intuitive feel for the rhythms, ironies and constraints of politics, all made him a popular and totally indispensable member of the prime minister’s inner circle.

Lesser men might have found this proximity to power intoxicating, even corrupting. But not Chris. Throughout his time at the heart of government – and before that as part of Gordon Brown's core team at the Treasury – Chris embodied with selfless humility the enduring values of the civil service he loved.

Honesty, impartiality and integrity; speaking truth to power; due process and respect for the traditions and conventions upon which administrative competence depends; respect too for politicians and the impossible choices they have to make. Above all, getting the job done. These were the values that Chris lived every day of his professional life, particularly as he approached the very pinnacle of his profession.
Chris's commitment to his team in Number 10 was renowned. On his first Christmas day as PPS, he ran into the office from his London flat to deliver chocolates to staff who were working in Downing Street that day. The loyalty he gained was not only evident in exemplary Number 10 People Survey results (of which he was rightly very proud), but in the genuine warmth with which his teams remember him, and the sincerity of the messages left in his condolence book.
So Chris leaves behind him not just the genuine admiration of those who knew him in the civil service, the world of politics and British contemporary history (which his own passion for the history of Number 10 did so much to encourage); but also the love, affection and friendship that all those he touched felt for him.

Outside the office he was a marvellous host and social companion. Witty and warm; eclectic (but expert) in his interests and tastes. Whether tapping out texts explaining the implications of the Budget (yes, such texts exist!); arguing about constitutional policy over Prosecco in a Whitehall bar; listening in to the latest PM conference call while cooking a dinner for twelve or watching his beloved Gunners; or running marathons (most recently just six months ago for Sarcoma UK), Chris somehow always seemed to be able to balance his love for life with his love of the job. The many close friends he made throughout his career – initially at the Treasury, at the Security Service, and at the Cabinet Office and right across Whitehall – are the best possible testament to his optimism, his wit and above all his generosity of spirit.

Sadly Chris' own time ran out all too soon. But his many friends, his wonderful family, and of course Zoe his wife, who brought Chris such joy in the final months, can look back on an extraordinary life lived to the full. We, they and indeed the country, can truly be proud of him.

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