Friday, 7 November 2008

The passing of a giant

I try not to be anything other than happy and upbeat on this blog, but today I thought it wrong not to say something about the death of former RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon.

Jack died last night at a nursing home in Bangor, Co Down, aged 79.

For those who don’t know, Jack Hermon was the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary from 1980 to 1989.

His time at the top coincided with one of the most harrowing periods in Northern Ireland's history including the IRA hunger strikes in 1980 and 1981 and, in 1985, the single greatest loss of police lives in the Troubles when nine officers were murdered in an IRA mortar attack in Newry.

Almost twenty years after stepping down, he remained a target for terrorists and, last year, had to be moved from another nursing home because of a threat to his life.

Jack’s loving wife, Lady Sylvia Hermon, became an Ulster Unionist MP in 2001. I had known Sylvia a bit before she won her seat in North Down but, after her election, I spent more than two years working closely with her in the House of Commons.

In one of the classiest acts I have ever witnessed, both Jack and Sylvia – accompanied by tight but subtle Special Branch security - attended the funeral of my late stepmum Joan in Coleraine seven years ago. They didn’t say they were coming and they wanted no fuss – but they did want to be there. I’ll never forget it and neither, more importantly, will my dad.

And, that Christmas, Sylvia gave me a gift of Jack’s autobiography, Holding The Line, signed by both of them. Needless to say it is something I keep safe and will always treasure.

The phrase, “we’ll never see his like again,” is sometimes over-used.

But, in the case of Sir John Hermon OBE QPM, it is undoubtedly true.

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