Who ever heard of a 100-year-old man upstaging an entire silver band with a virtuoso solo cornet performance of an old psalm tune – ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd, to ‘Crimond’?
It happened in Portadown on Sunday when Tommy Archer – a legend in the town’s Salvation Army Citadel – celebrated reaching the century, alongside his wife and family, at the Sandringham Care Home off the Gilford Road.
The town’s Salvation Army Band – augmented by their friends from the Lurgan Citadel – turned out to honour the revered Tommy, and played with its usual rich, dulcet strains. Great rousing hymns like ‘Who is on the Lord’s Side?’ (to the newer tune ‘Rachie’), ‘Thine Be the Glory’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’.
But everyone at the special celebration agreed that Tommy’s aficionado cornet playing stole the show, surrounded by family and friends – most notably his wife Gladys (96), with whom he has shared his life for 78 years.
Most of the extended family was there to help the happy couple celebrate – they have a son and daughter, Gordon and Jennifer, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. The youngest is Jessica Gracey, who shared her crisps with proud great-granddad!
Gladys has been a resident at Sandringham for the last eight years, and until March this year, her devoted husband had driven his trusty car the half-mile or so from his home at Village Walk every single day to be with her and give her the support they have shared for almost 80 years.
But Tommy hasn’t been too well of late, and about 10 weeks ago, joined his beloved wife in Sandringham, initially for respite care, but has settle in nicely for the wonderful care offered by the staff.
Tommy and Gladys have literally shared a lifetime together, both being dedicated Salvationists. He is best known as bandmaster with the Citadel at Edward Street. Captain Scott Cunliffe, who was among the guests on Sunday, said, “They are such a loyal devoted couple – both to the Army and to one another. They are simply an inspiration.”
Tommy came originally from Victoria Street in Lurgan and worked as a clerk in the Johnston Allen linen firm, long since closed. He moved to Portadown in 1935 to be with Gladys, also a Salvationist. And on Sunday she recalled her days at the old Academy School, now the church halls at Armagh Road Presbyterian Church, and her special friend Hannah Crozier, who married and moved to Wales.
Tommy was bandmaster for Portadown Salvation Army for many years, training countless young men and women in the art of playing their instrument with the mellow tones synonymous with the ‘Sally Ann’. And he recalled that he trained Captain Philip Shannon, now bandmaster of the Welsh Guard, who called recently to see him and thank him.
He ended his working life as local manager of the Wesleyan General Assurance and puts his longevity done to “simply having a positive, Christian outlook to life”. And maybe that superb breath control in blowing his cornet for a lifetime has done him a power of good!
Sunday’s was a wonderful, family occasion and it was fitting that the bandspeople of the Salvation Army – and the local officers – were there to share the event with Tommy, Gladys and their loving family. A buffet meal included a cake festooned with pictures of the history of the ‘Army’ in Portadown – edible pictures in this day and age when technology allows ‘miracles’ like that!
Everyone expressed the hope that Gladys, too, would reach the 100 years milestone, and that Tommy would be spared to share the occasion with her.
Said daughter Jennifer, “It’s been his wish for a long time that he would reach 100, and he’s delighted to have made it.”