John Maxwell died on 4 June 2023, aged 81. The following is taken from a eulogy given by The Rt Hon Sir Paul Girvan, a great friend of John’s, edited by Dr Malcolm Sloan.
‘Forsake not an old friend, for the new is not comparable to him; a new friend is new wine; when it is old, thou shalt drink it with pleasure.’ Ecclesiasticus, 13.1
John was the son of William Maxwell, a very well-respected architect, and Bebe, a lady of great vitality and charm. John was very devoted to both of them and had a happy childhood growing up in a household where he was very well-loved.
He attended a prep school, Mourne Grange in Northern Ireland, and then College in the 1950s. He loved this school and remained extremely loyal throughout his life, returning often to College to attend events and to watch the Cricket Festival and indulge one of his passions, watching anything with a moving ball! John also supported the school after he had left, contributing to the restoration of the organ and to Leconfield. He went on to study at Trinity College, Dublin and as a Bar student at Queen’s University in Belfast. He had many friends from his days both at school and at university, one of whom remarked in his eulogy, with reference to the above verse, that ‘John was as a pressed wine from the best vintage.’
John was called to the Bar in 1971 and by all accounts had a profound impact upon others during his career. He was happy working as a criminal prosecutor in the lower courts rather than developing a House of Lords Practise at the Bar.
In his career he was known for taking great care, showing an admirable ability and demonstrating courtesy to others always. He was renowned for helping any young barristers in the court where he was prosecuting and became a surrogate master of sorts for many young practitioners who often sought out his highly regarded advice.
As well as practising law himself, John lectured in law in Northern Ireland and also acted as a tutor at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. Here, John continued to pay forward his gratitude for his life at the Bar, establishing the John PB Maxwell Scholarship Awards which recognises and supports young barristers who have distinguished themselves during the course of their training at the Institute. To date, 60 scholarships have been awarded, demonstrating an unprecedented generosity of spirit that was ‘unparalleled’ in the history of the Northern Ireland Bar. In 2018, John even doubled his initial donation amount, doubling the value of the scholarship in turn. John’s generosity of spirit went beyond the financial; the then head of the Institute, Mary McAleese, who was later to become the President of Ireland, praised John in her memoirs for the meticulous notes and assistance he gave her when she was appointed Reid Professor of Law at Trinity.
John was supported in his great generosity by Val, his wife, through whom he became very involved in the Belfast Operatic Company. With Val, John enjoyed many adventures, travelling widely and gaining wonderful life experiences. John also enjoyed his role as godfather to seven children, who remembered him for his ‘integrity, kindness and wit.’
John was a remarkable man and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.