Harry had a real thirst for news

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Warm tributes have been paid to former Portadown Times staffman Harry Robinson who died at the weekend at a Whiteabbey care home.

He was 83 and had been in failing health over the past year.

Harry was a talented photographer-reporter with the Times, and developed into a go-getting reporter with the News Letter in Belfast for 25 years until he retired in 1998. He hailed originally from Tassagh outside Armagh and began his journalistic career in the Ulster Gazette (Armagh). He moved to the Portadown Times as a reporter-cum-photographer.

Retired Times editor David Armstrong recalled, “Harry was an old-fashioned newspaper man with an insatiable thirst for news. He was also a very competent photographer. Long before digital photography was introduced, he was taking dozens of photographs every week for the Times, as well as developing and printing all his work.

“He certainly wasn’t afraid of hard work and was a key member of the Times staff when the paper was winning national awards back in the Sixties. Harry took great pride in everything he did and is remembered with fondness by our staff of that era.”

A legendary story is still recalled that, while covering a football match at Shamrock Park, there wasn’t much action to photograph. Harry saw a horse grazing on the adjoining training pitch, opened the gate and snapped a classic picture of it trotting among the players! He joined the News Letter in the late-1960s.

Tandragee man Billy Kennedy was a former staffman with the Times and later deputy to Harry on the News Letter news desk for 18 years.

Said Billy, “Harry was not only an excellent news editor. He was a superb investigative reporter who had an insatiable appetite for a wide range stories - human interest, security and political.

“His wide range of contacts was the envy of his colleagues. These included RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon whose direct phone line was open to Harry on a regular basis.

“Harry’s contribution to the News Letter in the dark, difficult years of the Troubles was immense. I found him an inspirational colleague and friend.”

Former Portadown Times advertising manager Billy Austin also remembers Harry fondly as “a wonderful newsman always on the look-out for a story that would catch a main headline.”

He added, “As a journalist, Harry Robinson was quite a unique personality, but he was also a very private person.

“I have fond memories of his years at the Portadown Times in the 1960s.”

Harry is pre-deceased by his Portadown-born wife Joan (nee Watson of Clonavon Avenue). They were wed in 1959 at First Portadown Presbyterian Church, and he is survived by his son Peter.

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Harry Robinson was held in Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, where he faithfully worshipped for many years. Family members and friends were joined by former colleagues from the News Letter, the Portadown Times and the Belfast Telegraph. Burial was in Carnmoney Cemetery.