One of life’s great character’s Alwyn Thornton was a kind and generous man

One of life’s great characters, Alwyn Thornton will always be known as a man of kindness and generosity, helpful and humorous, and always with his special ‘tuneless’ whistle.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 9:02 am
Alwyn Thornton.
Alwyn Thornton.

Most will know him from his work at Wright’s on Portadown’s Dungannon Road towards the Birches. A tall man, unassuming and quiet, who was always there to lend a hand.

Alwyn was born on 19th October 1948, in the townland of Derrykeeran, Portadown, to Mary Alice Farrell and Samuel David Thornton, their second son. He and older brother Kenny were raised in a loving home with their mother, stepfather Willie-John Lappin, their maternal grandmother and their two younger sisters Doreen and Sylvia. The family left Derrykeeran and moved to Derrylettiff in 1964.

Alwyn attended Cloncore Primary School and then Killicomaine High School. Even as a child, Alwyn had a desire to sell – he wasn’t academic, but he had an entrepreneurial spirit from a very early age, spending his days as a young boy growing vegetables to sell at local markets.

Alwyn Thornton.

Growing up, Alwyn always had ambitions to go to Canada, and so, aged 18, he headed off to Toronto, where he spent the next eight years as a self-employed driver, working in the construction industry, driving large earth-moving machinery.

He returned to Ireland in 1974 and after a few short lived jobs, started working at Wright’s filling station, Derrykeevan, in 1977, where he would remain for 43 years.

At first, the business was run by Annie and Bob Wright, and, following the death of Bob, Alwyn didn’t want Annie going home alone after the funeral, and so he went to stay with her for a ‘couple of nights’. Those few nights would turn into a house-share lasting 14 years, and Alwyn and Annie became firm friends.

Alwyn quickly became an unofficial member of the Wright family, working to support Reggie and Phyllis run the business. He was a favourite adopted ‘uncle’ to Andrew, Helen and Heather, and the whole family included Alwyn in their daily life at all times. A big part of Alwyn’s work at Wright’s was fixing and replacing tyres. From bicycles to tractors and everything in between, Alwyn was quite simply the tyre man, and countless people will bear witness to how he helped them out with tyre problems over the years.

By 1991, Alwyn decided the time was right for a new start, and so he bought the old Blacksmith’s house next door to the filling station on the Dungannon Road, and built his own home. And even though it was right next door to the shop, such was his love of cars, Alwyn always drove to work 

Alwyn’s real passion was cars; he was the busiest used car salesman in the wider Birches area, and many people in the locality will have memories of a car they bought off Alwyn. He was a very familiar face at Wilson’s Auctions, Ballyclare auction and loved every opportunity to wheel and deal in cars.

Even when his health and his memory deteriorated, he would still talk about cars, still wanted to buy and sell.

Alwyn joined the Orange Order when he was 16 along with his brother Kenny, Breagh Lodge No.7, where he remained a member his whole life.

He was a very popular man who was always very helpful and went beyond the call of duty.

Alwyn was, in many ways, a one of a kind character. He was famous throughout the area for his unique ‘tuneless’ whistle. He was so well known throughout the wider area - a man of kindness, honesty, integrity, humbleness and generosity. He was a man of great humour and fun to be with, enjoying good company and great craic.

Alwyn gave his life to Christ 36 years ago in the Light House in Dungannon. He loved his place of worship and faithfully lived by his faith in his quiet and unassuming way. He was the most faithful friend, especially to those in need. All Alwyn’s charitable deeds were done in private, including the Black Santa. He wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know this.

In 2012, Alwyn and brother Kenny were fortunate enough to be reunited with their father who they hadn’t seen since they were aged three and four, when he had left NI. Their father had settled in Birmingham and had another family, and they were overjoyed to have the opportunity to spend time finally getting to know him. Indeed, the resemblance between Alwyn and his father was quite remarkable; he had inherited not only his father’s physical features and quirky mannerisms, but also his innate flair for all things motor-related – his father too, had spent his life wheeling, dealing, tinkering at cars.

Alwyn was diagnosed with advanced stage dementia in 2019, and with the dedicated support of his family, was able to remain living at home for over a year. And where other employers might have asked Alwyn to retire, testament to the love and support shown by Andrew Wright and family, Alwyn was also able to remain in work; his tasks and duties adopted as his condition progressed. This meant so much to Alwyn; working at Wright’s was his raison d’etre, and for them to continue to fulfil his sense of purpose was truly invaluable.

Following two heart attacks in June 2020, Alwyn’s health deteriorated further, meaning that full-time nursing care was necessary, and the staff at Orchard Lodge Care Home in Armagh looked after him like family, right up until his passing.

Alwyn passed away peacefully on May 23, and the hundreds of tributes that followed, from callers to the home and comments and messages on social media, spoke volumes about Alwyn’s strength of character and the regard in which he was held within the area.

His funeral was to Drumcree Parish Church followed by interment in Milltown Parish Churchyard. On the way to Milltown, the funeral cortege stopped off at the forecourt of the filling station, where staff and customers were waiting to bid him a final farewell, and Alwyn was driven off to a large round of applause. A touching tribute to a truly remarkable man. He is deeply mourned by his brother Kenny, siblings Doreen, Sylvia, Joan, Stephen and Lyn, his nieces, nephews and all the family circle as well as his many friends.

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