Victor Gordon a ‘one-off’ journalist of ‘the highest quality’

Victor Gordon was working as a freelance almost right up until his death
Victor Gordon was working as a freelance almost right up until his death

A seasoned news reporter whose career spanned virtually the entirety of the Troubles has been described as a “a journalist of the highest quality” and a “one off”, following his death at 75.

Victor Gordon began working for the Portadown Times around the very early 1970s, rose to become its deputy editor not long after, and was still contributing to the newspaper up until the time of his death.

Victor Gordon (second right middle row) at a Portadown Times staff reunion with David Armstrong (centre bottom)

Victor Gordon (second right middle row) at a Portadown Times staff reunion with David Armstrong (centre bottom)

After being diagnosed with liver cancer last month, he lived for only around two more weeks before dying, surrounded by family, at home in Portadown late on Sunday evening.

Tributes to him yesterday flowed in from ex-colleagues and former interviewees alike.

His former boss – ex-Portadown Times editor David Armstrong – recalled that Victor turned to journalism in his mid-20s after an “unhappy” early stint as a quantity surveyor, and also a period working as a teacher for special needs children.

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Initially Victor (known as ‘Vicky’ to colleagues) had contributed rugby reports to the paper on a freelance basis for about a year, before Mr Armstrong offered him a full-time job.

“I actually interviewed him on a park bench in Portadown public park,” he said.

“I knew the stuff he was writing for me, the rugby notes, and I’d never have had to change a line in it.

“I would never have had to dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t’. The stuff was immaculate.

“I had a vacancy, offered him the job – and he jumped at it.

“I just knew that he could do the job, and he certainly never, ever let me down.”

Victor was handed the role of general reporter on the paper, which then had around four news staff, plus a photographer.

Within about four to five years, he was its deputy editor.

Mr Armstrong (who retired about 10 years ago) said: “He carved out a hugely successful career for himself.

“Ivan Little in the [Belfast] Telegraph described him as one of the best journalists he had ever known, including all the boys in the dailies ...

“He was like a dog after a bone. If you’d got a story, he chased it until he got it.

“The paper won a lot of awards – design awards, awards for journalism, and he himself won the ‘weekly journalist of the year’ award, I think five times.”

After some years, he took on the editorship of the Armagh Guardian, but “never really wanted the job”, because he would much rather chase stories than act as a manager.

Nonetheless, while he ran the Armagh operation it jumped in circulation, before he returned to Portadown as deputy once more about a year later.

“He was a one-off,” said Mr Armstrong.

“You could have bet your life on him, and many’s the time I had to during the worst of the Troubles in Portadown ...

“Portadown was a difficult place, and we were all from Portadown. So it wasn’t easy to report the Drumcree stuff – or to report any Troubles stuff.

“There were murders practically every week at one stage, and Vicky was in the middle of reporting them all.”

Victor had been born in the Garvaghy Road, now a largely nationalist/republican district.

At the time of his birth the area had less housing and was largely Protestant, but changed rapidly in the following decades.

“He’d have written a lot of the editorials in the paper, and he was always preaching common sense, reconciliation. Because he grew up – as I did – in a very different Portadown.

“The Troubles caused him an awful lot of heartache.”

Despite advancing years, “retirement was never in his diary”, and he was still working up until a few weeks ago – adding that latterly he was particularly good at writing obituaries.

After marrying his wife Elizabeth he had moved to Abercorn Park, on the eastern side of the town, where he remained until the end of his life.

A keen rugby player and athlete in his school days, he later faced difficulties.

When he rang Mr Armstrong from hospital two weeks ago to tell of his cancer diagnosis, Victor knew it was terminal.

He had been a life-long teetotaller, and did not smoke.

In addition to his work, Victor had volunteered with the Boys’ Brigade, and had sung with two choirs – Portadown Male Voice Choir, and the choir at his own place of worship, Armagh Road Presbyterian Church in Portadown.

“The key to Vicky’s life was loyalty – loyalty to everything,” said Mr Armstrong.

“To the paper, to me, to the church choir, the male voice choir, the Boys’ Brigade.

“He was 100% loyal to all those organisations.”

Speaking of his final weeks, he said: “He faced the illness with the same courage as he faced life.

“He was very realistic about it – he knew what was happening and he faced it with great courage.”

News Letter editor Alistair Bushe, who was Portadown Times editor between 2007 and 2015, described Mr Gordon as the best journalist he has worked with.

“With the greatest of respect to the Portadown Times, Victor could have gone on to much bigger things.

“He was a journalist of the highest quality and had numerous opportunities to move on but he was fiercely loyal to the paper and he absolutely loved reporting on news from his home town.

“He will be greatly missed, not just by his family but by a whole community. All our sympathies to Elizabeth and the family.”

Senior News Letter journalist Billy Kennedy voiced “deep sorrow”, stating Victor had been “a close colleague and friend over 40 years”.

He said: “Victor was a journalist of the highest calibre; a consummate reporter with an insatiable hunger for news.

“His long career with the Portadown Times made him an institution and, while locally in Co Armagh, he carved a rich niche, his talents as a newsman took him to a higher plain with the dailies, both here in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.

“Few journalists of his day could match Victor’s editorial skills and ability to communicate on behalf of the ordinary man and woman on his beat.”

Victor is survived by his widow Elizabeth, brother William, daughters Heather and Fiona, son Paul, and grandchildren Cameron and Sarah. His funeral will be tomorrow at 2pm at Armagh Road Presbyterian Church, Portadown, and is open to all.

READ MORE: Gloria Hunniford: I trusted and admired newsman Victor Gordon

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