A remarkable tribute and legacy for actress Julie Maxwell

This week the Lyric Theatre received the life saving gift of a defibrillator from the Family of Julie Lewis (nee Maxwell).    The Belfast actress who died suddenly on a night out was 36 when she collapsed in the Sunflower Bar in August 2019.  Although paramedics rushed to the scene, she was pronounced dead in hospital.  At the time of her death Julie was working on the sell out Lyric Theatre production of Shirley Valentine with Tara-Lynne O’Neill, directed by Patrick J O’Reilly.

Survived by her husband Rhodri, she was a well-known performer at the Lyric Theatre and had also starred in BBC NI comedy Soft Border Patrol.

Jimmy Fay, Executive Producer at the Lyric Theatre:  “Julie was a wonderful actress and a brilliant person. All of the Lyric family miss her terribly. We are delighted to receive this defibrillator from Julie’s family to honour her. It’s a remarkable tribute to Julie’s memory and may well save lives in the future. That is some legacy.”

Her family have now installed four of the devices at arts and entertainment venues across the city in the hope they may one day save a life.  They were unveiled on Monday at the Lyric, at the Sunflower and American Bars, and at the South Bank rehearsal space on the Ormeau Road.

Her sister Stacey McCann (33) and father Jim McCann (58) thanked supporters who helped raise funds for the defibrillators.

“The generosity of people who donated was just unbelievable, so it just shows how well Julie was thought of,” Ms McCann told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Even more than a year later people were still donating away. Now these devices will be there if anyone needs them, so no family will have to go through what we did.  It was just one of those unexpected things with Julie, it could have happened to anyone.  I don’t understand why it’s not compulsory to have them installed everywhere.”

Her father added: “If this had been here on the night Julie died, we may not have had to go through what we did.  If it saves one life and stops a family going through this pain it’s well worth it.  We were just at the Lyric, which was Julie’s second home. Everyone there knew Julie, she was there since the age of 12. As well as acting she had moved into assistant producing. To have a device there now that will be there forever, it would mean a lot to her and it means a lot to us.”

Ms McCann said her late sister would have been “overwhelmed” by the effort.

“People can be put off by defib machines, but they actually talk to you and tell you exactly what to do. Like a lot of people, I had never thought about using one of these machines before until I looked into it. Now I realise they aren’t in many places, and they really should be by law.”

The installation of the devices comes 55 years after the first version of a portable defibrillator was installed in a Belfast ambulance after being designed by Lisburn man Professor Frank Pantridge.

Today around 1,500 cardiac arrests occur here outside of hospital every year, while nearly 2,000 automated external defibrillator devices are registered with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.