Lives Remembered

Uel Hamilton: A life dedicated to volunteering

Uel Hamilton pictured on top of Black Mountain in the Belfast hills

UEL Hamilton was "a shining example of service to the community".

A founder and president of the North West Mountain Rescue Team, the Derry man was also the longest serving member of the Foyle Search and Rescue Team.

Warm tributes have been paid across the island to a gentleman who dedicated a lifetime to volunteering.

Brought up in the Northland Road area of Derry, Samuel Cecil Ronald Hamilton first discovered his love of the outdoors through the scouts.

He joined a climbing club in the city and in 1980 formed a mountain rescue team with a few others after they were out hill walking and stumbled across an accident.

Covering Co Donegal as well as Derry in those early days, around 20 volunteers used their own cars and equipment to respond to call-outs in all weathers.

"They had use of a white police Land Rover and VHF radios... but it was enough to answer as diverse call-outs as rescuing sheep from crags, to taking part in major search and rescue operations," it said.

In 1993 Uel took over as team leader and was credited with securing great improvements to the service, which now operates across Northern Ireland except the Mournes, as well as supporting other teams throughout the island.

He filled every key committee position over the years and was president at the time of his death.

A building used by the charity for its equipment was named Hamilton House in his honour in recent years.

"He was one of the most popular volunteers on the team, all of whom talk about him as a true gentleman who dedicated most of his adult life to volunteering in his community and contributing to the saving of lives," it said.

Uel's involvement with the Foyle Search and Rescue Team began when he took a job as a caretaker at its Waterside base 22 years ago - he had previously worked in Warwick's wallpaper shop until suffering a heart attack.

For years he spent every Friday and Saturday night on shore patrol, monitoring into the early hours for anyone falling into the water.

Even when battling cancer over the last six years he continued to fundraise and attend meetings or support other volunteers where possible.

His long service was recognised earlier this year with a special award, something that brought him great joy.

He also continued to enjoy hill walking when he could, with his favourite climb being Slemish in Co Antrim, for many years an annual destination on St Patrick's Day.

Uel's funeral at Kilfennan Presbyterian Church on Tuesday saw rescue teams form a poignant guard of honour and a convoy of their vehicles accompanied the hearse.

His mountain rescue colleagues proudly drove with blue lights flashing - something their late president had lobbied for them to be able to do in his final years.

Rev Rob Craig urged mourners to try to honour the father-of-two's remarkable volunteering spirit.

“Some 36 years ago Uel and others had a vision,” Rev Craig said.

“I mean very simply that they saw a need and saw how they could try and meet that need – the need for a mountain rescue team.

"They didn't let the difficulties put them off; they were dedicated to the task. They started with nothing other than what they had themselves – their own equipment and cars. But they had a vision and they grew it.

“What better tribute could we pay to Uel than this: that if we see a need and see that we can do something about it, that we act in response to that vision.”

Uel Hamilton died aged 72 on Saturday and was laid to rest at Ballyoan Cemetery.

Predeceased by his twin brother Will, he is survived by his wife Anne, son Stuart and daughter Lisa.

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Lives Remembered