Lives Remembered

Special life of public service and quiet generosity

Derry businessman James Doherty

James Doherty exemplified everything that was good about public service, everything that was good about his native Derry and everything good about Christianity.

A former chairman of the Nationalist Party, his involvement in politics was an extension of his Christian charity; he saw it as a way of improving the lives of his fellow Derry people.

However, it was as a businessman that he found greatest fame, or more specifically as the man who gave the world Doherty's Special Mince and Doherty's Sausages.

The son of a butcher, James was educated at St Columb's College before taking a first in commerce and economics at University College, Dublin.

While at UCD, he served as an officer with its Commerce and Economics Society, a position he handed over to future Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

James's days at university coincided with the Second World War. Even then his call to public service was evident as he served in the Local Defence Force.

Back home, he wasted no time in expanding the family butcher's business.

It was during this time that his marketing of Doherty's mince and sausages saw the products become as Derry as the city's walls.

Indeed, it was a frequent request in emigrants' letters home to send over some “Dohertys' special”.

As chief executive of the growing company, James gave a first start to a young Martin McGuinness.

The Deputy First Minister was among politicians, including former SDLP leaders John Hume and Mark Durkan, to attend his funeral at St Patrick's Church, Pennyburn.

James was heavily involved in the civil rights movement and in the Citizens' Action Committee in the late 1960s.

It was through his political and business activity that he realised the importance of education in lifting people out of the poverty trap.

He served on a range of bodies, from the North West Regional College to the Western Education and Library Board, and remained a member of three school boards until well into his eighties.

There are also many stories of James's quiet generosity. It became a private tradition each Christmas to send some of Derry's street drinkers to a draper's to be outfitted at his cost.

Despite his many commitments, he was also a loyal member of the St Eugene's Cathedral choir in Derry for more than 60 years.

At his Requiem Mass, retired Bishop of Derry Dr Edward Daly said: “I simply do not know where or how he found time for so many activities.”

Aside from his political and work activities, James was devoted to his faith and Church and was given a Papal Knighthood in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

“He preached the gospel by his life of service to others,” Dr Daly said.

“He offered constructive and searingly honest criticism when it was needed. He was a wise and prudent man. He had a great zest for life and enjoyed life.”

To another friend, former Sunningdale minister Ivan Cooper, James was quite simply “great company and great to be with”.

James Doherty passed away aged 90 at his home at Baronscourt in Derry after a long illness on May 22.

He was laid to rest in the city cemetery.

Seamus McKinney

Lives Remembered