A former environmental health officer who rose through the ranks to become Belfast City Council’s first female chief executive has been made an OBE.
Suzanne Wylie, who recently ended a three-decade career at Belfast City Hall to become CEO of the Jersey Government, has been recognised for services to local government in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Wylie, a married mother of three, said she was “shocked” and “delighted” by the honour.
While she and husband John have now settled into a new life on the Channel Islands, the letter informing her of her inclusion on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list was posted to the family home in Belfast.
“It had to be opened by my daughter who photographed it and sent it to me,” Mrs Wylie told the PA news agency.
“It did look official, so my daughter opened it for me when she was on the phone and then sent me the pictures.
“It was a big surprise. I was shocked because I wasn’t really expecting it – I was delighted.”
Mrs Wylie joined the council straight from university. Her first job was as an environmental health officer.
The Belfast-born public servant fulfilled several other roles in the years ahead with a particular focus on public health.
She was involved in setting up community safety and district policing partnerships in Belfast, and also in an initiative to deploy antisocial behaviour officers in the city.
Mrs Wylie also took on a leadership role in emergency planning operations, heading up the council’s response to floods, snowfalls and water shortages.
She rose to the position of director of front-line services before being appointed chief executive in 2014, just at a time when Belfast City Council was expanding as part of local government reforms in Northern Ireland.
One of the highlights of her time in charge was the signing of the Belfast Region City Deal – a partnership involving the UK Government and local authorities that will see £850 million invested in the area in years to come.
Her tenure was not without controversy. In 2020, Mrs Wylie apologised for the council’s role in the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey after it emerged that his family members were allowed to attend at a Belfast crematorium on a day when other families were denied access due to Covid-19 lockdown rules.
After making history as the first woman to head up Belfast City Council, she broke the glass ceiling again to become the first female chief executive of the government in Jersey.
Mrs Wylie is now involved in mentoring other aspiring female executives.
“Obviously, I want to do the job in the same way that anybody taking on a role, and being really dedicated to what they do, would do,” she said.
“I think though that for other women, it’s good to see women in leadership roles, because we all know that people need to see what it’s like to work in those roles.
“So, it’s really good for other females to see that.
“So, I would do quite a bit of mentoring and shadowing for females. I did that in Belfast and I’m doing that in Jersey now as well.”
Mrs Wylie said she is enjoying life in her new home, especially the warmer weather.
“The weather is different, the weather is definitely different, but you know some of the coastlines of Jersey remind me of some coastlines of Donegal and places like that and it has a really good food scene, just like Belfast clearly has a very good food scene as well.
“And there are lots of outdoor things to do and that’s what I loved doing in Belfast too at the weekends, getting outdoors with the dogs and going for walks on the beach.”
She says one of the biggest challenges they faced was getting their two dogs – a German shepherd and retriever – from Northern Ireland to the Channel Islands. A trip, undertaken by husband John, that involved two ferry trips and a lot of driving.
Reflecting on her honour, Mrs Wylie paid tribute to all her former colleagues at Belfast City Hall.
“I’m really delighted to get it, though I do feel very strongly that everything that was achieved in Belfast during my time as CEO was a real team effort,” she said.
“It was not just down to me. So, really, I think this award reflects the whole of the team I worked with in Belfast.”