OBITUARY : Marcus Dodds

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Marcus Dodds, life-enhancer and civil servant, began his professional life in the Ministry of Home Affairs at Stormont in 1968, the year the Troubles began. His ability to mix happily both socially and professionally with British and Irish, with Catholic and Protestant, was of great value at a key period in Anglo-Irish relations, and his objectivity, sense of history, clarity and lucidity were prized particularly by those British colleagues who felt out of their depth in matters Irish.

The son of a rich Presbyterian minister with two churches in Co Kildare, after his father's death in 1959 Dodds went to Campbell College, Belfast, and then to Queen's University, Belfast. Offered a research place at the London School of Economics, he chose instead to join the public service, and in 1975, after the abolition of Stormont, became the first Northern Irish civil servant to work in London for the Northern Ireland Office.

In the early Eighties he returned to Belfast to work in the Department of Education and for four years from 1989 was the senior British official at the Anglo-Irish secretariat at Maryfield, Co Down, established under the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The arrival at any event of Dodds's small tubby figure elicited joyous cries, for his friends were legion and they counted on him to liven and lighten up all occasions. The impact of his personality was wholly benign, for he used his wit and his formidable talents as a mimic to add to the gaiety of nations, not to wound. He was a great entertainer, but rather than performing at people, he brought his audience into his world of brilliantly observed absurdities and made them part of it. And with his mother, Dorothy, he extended warm and generous hospitality at home in Downpatrick.

Dodds made fun of everything and everyone and most of all of himself. I vividly remember a pre-lunch guided tour of vast military canvases in the Cavalry Club, when with magnificent pomposity he delivered a flow of hilarious throwaway lines on the subject of the central role of Marcus Dodds in a succession of bloody engagements from the Crimea to the Boer War.

But in human relations Dodds was much more than a comedian. Part of the reason for his popularity was his sheer interest in others. A colleague described looking out the office window and seeing him emerging from a taxi and paying the driver, an operation which took at least five minutes, for he could not bear to tear himself away from the conversation in which they were both absorbed. He was a huge favourite with waiters, porters and all those others who are often ignored; he struck up relationships with them and always had time for a word.

Since 1993 Dodds had been back in London as the Assistant Secretary in charge of the Economic and Social Division of the Northern Ireland Office. When he died he was closely involved with American officials who were already benefiting from his great networking skills.

For not only did Marcus Dodds know everyone, he knew how to get them to help each other.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

Marcus Dodds, civil servant: born Co Kildare 20 October 1944; Assistant Secretary, Economic and Social Division, Northern Ireland Office 1993- 95; died London 5 June 1995.