A quiet farmer from Donaghcloney, near Banbridge, George Savage represented Upper Bann in the Assembly between 1998 and 2003 and again from 2007 to 2011 and was also a longstanding member of Craigavon Borough Council. He passed away on 1 October and his funeral brought the village he loved to a respectful standstill.
He was from a traditional unionist background – a member of the Orange and Masonic orders who also served in the Ulster Defence Regiment during the Troubles. George was also a loyal supporter of his leader and constituency colleague David Trimble in the turbulent early years of the Assembly. As Deputy Chair of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, he often advised Rev Ian Paisley.
It was a credit to his character that one political opponent, the DUP’s Stephen Moutray, recalled a “mildly spoken person who was not given to rash words even in the heat of debate”. George was instrumental in linking Craigavon with Ballina, County Mayo, and was an annual visitor to the western county.
John O’Dowd learnt a lot from him as a young councillor and had often met him in Parliament Buildings after his retirement, still representing his constituents. Another Sinn Féin councillor was often late for meetings because George kept her back by telling stories from his life and times.
When he raised a finger in a conversation, colleagues knew that he was about to come to his point. He would also intentionally leave politics aside in a conversation to ask about a neighbour’s welfare or the current state of the farming world.
The general tone of the tributes was captured in the words of SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly when looking back at the time of the Belfast Agreement: “He made a great compromise to make a better future for everyone in our society. He never wavered in his support nor in his conviction that what he was doing was the right thing.”