Man who made mark in insurance

Noel Eakins.
Noel Eakins.

Noel Eakins, who died last week at the age of 86, was a man of many interests – not least his church (St Mark’s Church of Ireland) and Portadown Football Club whom he followed most of his long life.

Mr Eakins was the last survivor and the youngest of a family of five, and was predeceased by Doris, William, Mabel and Bertie.

He lived originally in Tandragee, his father having been a policeman, a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and then the newly-formed RUC. He really enjoyed his childhood in Tandragee.

But the family experienced early tragedy. Firstly, Noel’s father died at a relatively young age. The family at that stage moved to Tandragee Road, Portadown, and young Noel suffered another blow at the age of 15 when his mother passed away.

He had been particularly close to his mother and he often said that it was she who inculcated in him a love for his church, having attended Ballymore in Tandragee during his formative years. In Portadown, they joined St Mark’s and it became a significant part of his life.

When he left school, his first job was with McDonagh’s furniture factory in Obins Street where he served his apprenticeship and remained there for 12 years, starting during the war years. He loved the job and it was here that he discovered a real talent for buying and selling – he went with the bosses to various auctions and acquired antique furniture to be restored and refurbished in the workshops.

It was during this period of his life that Noel met his future wife, the former Melba Thomas who lived at Seagoe Park and worked in Wades Ceramic factory in Watson Street. The family story goes that he saw her from a distance in the centre of town one day and said, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” They were wed in St Mark’s in August 1953 three years after that fateful day.

They began their married life in the original Eakins home at Tandragee Road, with Noel’s brothers and sisters having married and moved out. And then their children came along – Paul in 1956 and Linda (now Mrs Welham) in 1959.

Early into their marriage, Noel decided to change jobs, having discovered a real talent for selling – he joined the Pearl Assurance Company, then at High Street, Portadown, starting by collecting weekly premiums around town (travelling by bicycle).

He quickly rose to become manager of the Portadown office in the 1960s and from there he was promoted to division manager in the Belfast office, visiting the local offices three days a week.

The family moved out to Moyallon in 1969 to the new bungalow that Noel and Jackie Whitten had built – it had extensive gardens and he and the family adored the place and he remained there for the next 45 years.

He retired at the age of 60, but again tragedy struck when Melba suffered from a heart condition and died at the early age of 59. It was a devastating blow for Noel as he and Melba had enjoyed a happy life together, especially their wonderful holidays – visiting various parts of the British Isles, to churches, cathedral and football grounds. And they expanded this shared pleasure when they took in European venues like Italy, Holland, Switzerland and the Canary Islands. They also had a wide circles of friends and loved dining out on Saturday nights.

Portadown Football Club was an all-consuming passion, and he insisted on hearing the results until two weeks before his death – he spent the last days at Glenview Nursing Home. Noel was also a keen gardener, and animal lover, played bowls and was a keen walker, especially along the banks of the Bann.

At his funeral service in St Mark’s, the Rector Canon Jim Campbell, recalled that Noel Eakins was a devoted parishioner. He was a member of the Select Vestry, served as church warden from 1967-69 was a staunch prayer book man, loved the liturgies of the church and especially enjoyed Evensong – a great CoI traditionalist and a man of firm faith.

Canon Campbell also extended thanks to the extended family circles, to the doctors and staff of Craigavon Area Hospital and to the family GP, and to Glenview during the latter days of Noel’s life.

He especially mentioned Paul and Terri, Linda and Mike, Sarah and Matthew, his close friend Olive and nephews Robert and Andrew.

Burial was in the family grave at Ballymore Churchyard, Tandragee. Donation in lieu of flowers are to the Craigavon Cardiac Care Association, c/o Joseph Poots and Sons, Funeral Directors, 42 Bridge Street, Portadown BT63 5AE.