EVEN for a man who has experienced many moments of achievement during his distinguished career in politics and education, last Saturday was a momentous day in the life of Dr. Samuel Semple.
The former Mayor of Lisburn joined a very select list of individuals when he received the Freedom of Lisburn City during emotional proceedings at Lagan Valley Island.
The honour is the highest the council can bestow on anyone and was made in recognition of Dr. Semple's 'outstanding service' to the community in Lisburn and Northern Ireland.
More than 200 guests gathered for a day of ceremony as Dr. Semple became the first person to receive the Freedom of Lisburn since the town officially became a city last year.
The Mayor of Lisburn, Councillor Betty Campbell, Lisburn Institute principal Alister McReynolds and former Lisburn Mayor, Councillor Jim Dillon, were among those who paid tributes to Dr. Semple.
The proceedings included the official Freedom Ceremony in the Lisburn City Council chamber followed by a civic luncheon and speeches in the Island Hall.
Dr. Semple was even moved to tears as a succession of tributes were paid to his many achievements. In the aftermath of the ceremony he was moved to thank all those involved in making his special day.
"My heart is full of thankfulness and appreciation that The Right Worshipful Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, Aldermen and councillors of the City Council, many of whom are my former colleagues, decided to honour me in such style and splendour," he said.
The day certainly began in style as Dr. Semple and his wife Edith were taken to Lagan Valley Island in a 1932 vintage Rolls Royce, which attracted admiring looks as it travelled through the city centre.
With the guests already seated in the council chamber just before midday, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor Cllr. Billy Bell, Dr. Semple and Mrs. Semple, the council chief executive Mr Norman Davidson and the Mayor's chaplain Fr. Sean Rogan proceeded to their seats.
The freedom ceremony got underway at noon with the chief executive reading the resolution of the council that the Honorary Freedom of the City of Lisburn be conferred on Dr. Semple. After an address by the Mayor, Councillor Campbell presented a Certificate of Grant to Dr. Semple, who then signed the Roll of Freemen.
With the meeting concluded it was on to the foyer for photographs followed by the civic luncheon in the island hall. Dr. Semple was particularly moved when a recording was broadcast from his 'dear friend' General Sir San Cowan, the Colonel Commandant of the Gurkhas, who paid a moving tribute via a video link from his base in Nepal.
"What he said took my breath away," said Dr. Semple. "He was speaking in full uniform with the Himalayas in the background and the idea of him going to that trouble for me was very moving. It was a tremendous tribute and it reduced me to tears."
The emotion didn't end there though and by the time the luncheon was all over around tea time, Dr. Samuel Semple was a very proud man. He paid tribute to everyone who made the day so successful.
"It's difficult to find words to express how I feel," he added. "It was a supreme accolade as far as I'm concerned, it's the highest honour that any council or municipality can bestow on one of its own citizens and particularly on one of its members."
Dr. Semple has enjoyed a great career both inside and outside politics. He was an Alderman with Lisburn Borough Council from 1973 to 1997 and served as Mayor between 1979 and 1981.
He was with the Council when the Lisburn Museum and in later years, the Irish Linen Centre, were opened. This is in addition to his career in the field of education.
Dr. Semple was a longstanding member of the South Eastern Education and Library Board and held high office there.
He was the only person to hold both presidencies of the Association of Education and Library Boards of Northern Ireland and the Association of Local Authorities in Northern Ireland.
Dr. Semple received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ulster in 1997 in recognition o f his contribution to public service in Northern Ireland.
Despite all the achievements, Dr. Semple believes Saturday, March 29 was his finest day.
"It was a great honour to be the first citizen of Lisburn and to become a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire but this is the supreme accolade and one I'm most grateful to the council for," he said.
For the rest of his life Dr. Semple can feel satisfaction with how he has contributed to Lisburn's success.
"It's amazing to see how much Lisburn has expanded with the museum and the LeisurePlex and now the jewel in the crown, the new civic centre. It makes me very proud."
Mayor leads the tributes to Dr. Semple
THE Mayor of Lisburn Councillor Betty Campbell led the tributes to the new Freeman of Lisburn City, Dr. Samuel Semple, during Saturday's luncheon.
Mrs. Campbell praised Dr. Semple for being a 'driving force' in the field of education and highlighted his distinguished career and unique achievements.
Dr. Semple's involvement with the Lisburn Chamber of Commerce, his 'active role' within the Church of Ireland both drew praise.
The Mayor paid particular attention to Dr. Semple's role on the council and his desire to see the borough of Lisburn grow and expand.
It was recalled how he was heavily involved in the plans to build the Lagan Valley LeisurePlex and opened the Lisburn Museum as Mayor in 1981. Dr. Semple also helped identify the eventual location for the new civic centre at Lagan Valley Island.
Mrs. Campbell added: "I feel it is particularly fitting that this award is our first Freedom of the City award and as such a supporter of our attainment of City Status, there is no one more deserving than you, Dr. Semple."
Former Lisburn Mayor, Councillor Jim Dillon, said Dr. Semple 'richly deserved' the honour after dedicating his career to education, the council and the community.
Mr. Dillon recalled how Dr. Semple gave him 'sound advice' when he first joined Lisburn Borough Council in 1977.
The Killultagh Councillor emphasised Dr. Semple's commitment to the council's city status campaigns and described how he had contributed to the place Lisburn is today.
"I believe people like Dr. Semple, with drive, determination and enthusiasm, make this city the place that it is.
"He is truly a great ambassador for the City of Lisburn and immeasurably deserving of the council's honour to him as Freeman of the City and I know Dr. Semple is as pleased and proud to receive this honour as we are in bestowing it."
Lisburn Institute Principal Alister McReynolds praised Dr. Semple for his 'life of public service' and particularly his service to the generation of pupils at Lisburn Technical College and Lisnagarvey High School.
Dr. Semple's role as headmaster of Lisnagarvey was a particular focus of Mr. McReynolds' speech.
He pointed out how the school 'fashioned a reputation for excellence' in many facets of school life.
He explained. "Sam sought through the work of the school to maximise the individual talents of pupils and staff and to promote a sense of self-worth, of humanity, of tolerance, of adaptability and of service to community and country."