IT is estimated that Mr Samuel Poots, who died last week after a long illness, acted as undertaker to more than 20,000 families during his 65-year career. He never attended a funeral without first going to a room in private and praying for the bereaved family, mentioning every one of them by name.
And it was this unshakeable faith that helped him through two particular tragedies in his life when daughter Daphne died in 1998, and a second daughter Rosemary passed away in 2006.
He had seen countless similar tragedies unfold during his time as a caring, compassionate undertaker - and that must have helped him and his family through those hard-to-bear times. And it gave him an extra dimension as he comforted those who mourned.
If the families so desired, Samuel Poots would move far beyond the call of duty and pray with them, just as his own father Joseph Poots did since the day he founded the funeral directors back in the mid-1930s.
Samuel Poots was born in Dromore, County Down, on August 31, 1929, one of a family of three, to Joe and Mary Poots. Jim is deceased, while Maisie (Lurgan) was at his funeral service in First Portadown Presbyterian Church on Wednesday of last week.
The family originally ran a coach company in Lurgan, until the industry was nationalised in 1935. This prompted the far-sighted Joseph to switch business, and thus was conceived his funeral directors in Union Street, Lurgan, which he later moved to larger premises in Church Place. Then, in 1941, he expanded to Portadown, setting up at 83 Bridge Street, which was at the corner with Foundry Street.
The following year, young Sam had entered Lurgan College after his days at King’s Park Public Elementary, and while he was preparing for his Junior Certificate at the age of 16, he sustained a very serious rugby injury. As fate would have it, that finished his formal education, and he joined the family business on his recovery.
The manager of the Portadown branch in those days was David Guy who retired in 1954, at which stage young Sam took over. The branch moved across Bridge Street to its present site, although part of the ‘new’ premises was used by the Inglis and Windsor Bakeries at that stage.
Sam was a natural at the profession, both in his expertise in the technicalities and in his dealings with families at such a sensitive and traumatic time of their lives. In 1950, he obtained the British Institute Embalmers Certificate - the youngest to qualify in the British Isles - and in 1965, he served as chairman of the Northern Ireland Division of the British Institute of Embalmers.
During thee formative years, his personal life took a up-turn when he married the former Ethel Burrel in May 20 1953 (they celebrated 59 years last month). The first 33 years of their union was at Bridge Street where they lived “above the shop” and they moved to Killicomaine Road, with their family of six, son Jim and five daughters Daphne, Rosemary, Heather and the twins, Grace and Joy. Daphne and Rosemary have both since passed away. He also leaves 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
In the funeral service at First Portadown (Edenderry) Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, a fitting tribute by church elder Mr Herbert Morrow included the following - ‘Sam Poots was more that an undertaker. The legacy he has left behind is unique. His quiet entrance into a home of sorrow brought a sense of calm and peace. He never failed to speak a sensitive word for his Saviour. He personified grace. Like his Saviour, he “went about doing good”.’
Mr Morrow also quoted from an interview Mr Poots gave to the Portadown Times on June 6, 2003, when he told reporter Niall Crozier - “I don’t read books, I don’t write or paint and I don’t follow sport. I enjoy spending time with Mrs Poots and our family. And I love studying the Scriptures.”
When Niall suggested that after 50 years he would know all that the Bible contained he replied, “It doesn’t matter how much time you spend studying the Bible; you’ll never know it all. There is no end to the knowledge it contains.”
The service was conducted by Rev Stafford Carson, Minister at First Portadown, assisted by Rev Philip McKelvey (Loughgall) and Rev Gordon Best (Newmills). Burial was at Seagoe Cemetery, where the graveside service was conducted by Brethren evangelist Mr John Rodgers.
Donation in lieu of flowers are to The Mandeville Unit, Craigavon Area Hospital, c/o Poots Funeral Directors, cheques made payable to ‘Joseph Poots and Son’ and sent to 42 Bridge Street, Portadown BT63 5AE.