The past fortnight has been a sad one for me, having said farewell to three media colleagues, two from Belfast and one from Dublin. On Monday there was a large turnout for the funeral of John Harrison at Hillhall Presbyterian church near Lisburn. He was a great photographer who always had a kind word or a smile as he went about his work. Among the hundreds of mourners were the First and deputy First Minister, the former DUP leader Reverend Ian Paisley who was a family friend and a host of others from the political world, the civil service and the Northern Ireland media. Dr Paisley addressed the congregation. The choir sang beautifully, including a version of “Be thou my vision”.
John Harrison 1960-2010
John was 50 and took ill suddenly having attended a PR awards ceremony where he presented one of the prizes. During the week he had accompanied Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness on a visit to an economic conference in the USA. At the end of the service there were moving tributes from John’s children to their Dad. His son Peter had found out about his father’s death while in New York, where he is studying. He told mourners he had been able to meet his father while he was in Washington and said he was burying his father a week to the hour he had met him in the States. His daughter Catherine read a poem. Reverend Paul Jamieson described John as “a true gentleman”.
A week earlier, some of the same mourners had crowded into St Brigid’s church in South Belfast for the funeral of my former editor, Jim Dougal. Again, he was a media person whose work had brought him into contact with politicians and others from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. He too was decribed as “a gentleman and a gentle man”. Those fitting words were from a Presbyterian minister and former Moderator Reverend John Dunlop, a sign of how Jim had always done his best to reach across the religious divide. It was the first time I had heard a Protestant clergyman address mourners at a Catholic requiem Mass.
Jim Dougal 1945-2010
Jim had the distinction of working for all three major broadcasting organisations in Northern Ireland, UTV, BBC and RTÉ, where I knew him for seven years as Northern Editor until he joined BBC in 1991. He battled cancer in recent years and his death at the age of 65 is sad loss for our profession. One of his achievements while at RTÉ was to find a place for unionists to put their case to an audience in the Republic. Former MP Ken Maginnis was among the politicians who attended the Mass. Another was the former SDLP leader John Hume. His children gave fine tributes about their Dad at the end of the Mass. Burial took place in Carryduff. I had heard the sad news about Jim when I was in Dublin, where I had attended the removal at Glenageary near Dun Laoghaire of the remains of another former RTÉ colleague, John Cook. I knew him in the early 1970s before either of us went into broadcasting. Then when I joined RTÉ News in 1979, our paths crossed again.
John was a floor manager at the time, in the days of film. It was always a pleasure to know that he would be on duty as he was, like Jim Dougal and John Harrison, a gentleman. John went on to become a producer and director. On leaving RTÉ he founded John Cook Video Productions in 1986 and as explained on his his website (from which this photograph comes) he immediately set out to become one of the best producers of wedding and events video. Just one look at the recommendations on that website shows how popular his service had become. He will, like the others, be sadly missed. My sympathy goes to the families and relatives of all three great media pros. Jim and John will also be remembered along with other former colleagues at the annual Mass for deceased RTÉ staff at the Sacred Heart church in Donnybrook on November 2nd at 1pm.
REST IN PEACE