Dedicated BB officer and expert in helping people with special needs

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Few people have given such long and valuable service to the Boys’ Brigade Movement than John Hunter, who died last week after a long illness, borne with great courage and dignity.

John (who was 72 and lived at Eden Crescent) passed away at the Southern Area Hospice, Newry. He took with him the love and respect of many organisations, most notably the BB.

He was a founder member in 1957 of 4th Portadown (Edenderry Presbyterian) Company under the initial captaincy of Bertie Howell. He had the proud record of never having missed an annual camp, 55 in all, until last year when he was too ill to attend. Destinations over the years included Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and France, as well as various parts of Ireland and the UK.

Jim McKittrick, Company captain for 38 years, said, “John was so dedicated and modest. He worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the Company and at camps – he was an exemplary, Christian man, a real asset to the Company, to our church and to the community at large.

“His ready sense of humour, his innate fairness and his wide range of talents made him an ideal friend and officer. He was also a valued Member of Session at First Portadown and did more work around the church than anyone will ever know.”

John’s first fellow BB members all those years ago included Roy Harrison, Tom Morrow, Robert Chambers and Billy Palmer. He rose through the ranks to the position of Lieutenant-in-Charge of the Junior Section, a post he held for more than 30 years and for which he was ideal. He organised a wide range of activities, the annual weekends in Kilkeel being a highlight.

When he passed on the mantle, he remained an officer in the Company, especially in badge work where he led classes for both the junior and senior sections. He never officially retired from the BB and he appreciated the love and care of his officers, family and friends during his illness.

John Hunter was a man of many talents. Having attended the Hart Memorial and the then-Clounagh Intermediate School, he served his time as an upholster with Joe Thornton at Tandragee Road, then Brownstown Road, after which he worked at Bannvale Social Education Centre in Gilford. It was there that he blended his expertise as an upholsterer with his rapport with people with special needs.

Having found his true niche, he studied hard to acquire A-levels needed for a degree in social work. And he rose to become manager of Oakbridge Social Education Centre in Dungannon, where he was respected as an extremely fair and talented man in charge.

He pioneered ski trips for those in his care and was part of the committee which arranged the entry of Ireland into the Special Olympics for the first time. He travelled to North America then Japan, and in 2006 when the event was held in Northern Ireland, he was an official host for a number of nations who were based in Craigavon. He also travelled to Crimea to advise and be a consultant when they were ‘setting up’ provisions for those with special needs. John was also a trustee at the 180 restaurant in Portadown.

His interests were eclectic, especially his love for sport. He played football for various junior teams, most notably the BB Old Boys, Bourneview and various Summer League teams.He was a no-nonsense defender, firm and fair in the tackle. He played at various levels into his 40s and enjoyed BB officers’ five-a-side kick-abouts into his 50s. He also enjoyed the occasional casual game of golf with his mates, and played snooker regularly at the Fairgreen Club with his long-standing BB friend Eric Hammond.

John and son Simon were Portadown FC fans, while John’s favourites across the water were Manchester City and Simon followed Everton. They were regulars at Shamrock Park and often travelled together to support their Premiership teams. John is also survived by brother David, sister Barbara and by granddaughter Abby, whom he adored. In retirement, he devoted his time to collecting Abby from school, hockey, Irish dancing and swimming.

First Portadown Presbyterian Church was packed to capacity for Sunday’s funeral service. It was conducted by Rev Philip Thompson, the convenor of the current pulpit vacancy, with Rev Martin Cowan delivering the sermon and former Edenderry minister and ex-Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr Stafford Carson (Principal of the Union College) paying a glowing tribute.

Dr Carson said, “We thank God for John Hunter’s humility. He loved people and he loved company, and he always listened carefully to what others had to say. His own experience of life meant that he was understanding of the needs and challenges that other people faced, and he was kind and gentle.

“So many people have benefitted from John’s willingness to help them. His ability and skill with his hands was amazing. There are several pieces of furniture around our buildings which John made or refurbished. They will remain an on-going tribute to his abilities to work with his hands.”

Burial was the family plot at Tartaraghan Presbyterian Churchyard where the Hunters have their original ‘roots’.