When Kenneth Vennard gave a courteous bow as he received his BEM (British Empire Medal) at Hillsborough Castle, he felt a distinct lump in his throat.
It had nothing to do with personal pride but all to do with a poignant memory. For as David Lindsay, Lord Lieutenant of The County of Down, appended the ‘gong’ to Kenneth’s best suit, the devoted BB Captain could think of little else than his dear friend and RUC colleague, Sergeant Albert Craig.
By a poignant quirk of fate, Kenneth’s proud day coincided with the 38th anniversary of the night that he and Albert were subjected in 1978 to a terrorist attack as they were on traffic duty outside Shamrock Park stock cars.
Kenneth, a reservist, was hit in the arm by an IRA bullet, another whistled past his head, but Albert died in the attack.
“The presentation was such a happy family day, but tinged with real sadness as I thought of Albert,” he said. “It’s hard to believe it was so long ago.”
His police service is just part of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up Kenneth’s life of commitment. The main one, of course, is his love for his family, not least cheerful wife Jenny who has courageously fought multiple sclerosis.
Jenny and daughters Julie Hayes and Judith Nellins were at the ceremony, too, although son Timothy wasn’t able to make it.
The main reason for the BEM was, of course, Ken’s commitment to youth work, especially the Boys’ Brigade – over 60 years of service, from the day he joined Thomas Street (1st Portadown) Life Boys as an under-age four-year-old.
He took over Edenderry Methodist (7th Portadown) Junior Section in 1968 and succeeded the founder captain of the company section, Kenneth Twyble, in 1983. His early mentor was the quiet, unassuming Billy Coulter, the Thomas Street captain and legend.
The story moves back to Sergeant Craig and that IRA attack. For the following parade night of the BB was the only one that Kenneth missed in all those years.
It’s an oft-repeated family tale that they almost had to lock him in the garage to prevent him attending, having spent most of the previous week in hospital. But they couldn’t keep him down any longer and he was there as usual the next week, arm in plaster.
No award was ever more deserved.