Tommy Campbell: Gentleman, true Gael and giant in his community
TOMMY Campbell's life changed forever on February 25 1977 when his dad Joe, a sergeant in the RUC, was shot dead as he locked the gates of Cushendall police station.
At 20 years old, and the eldest of eight children, Tommy took on the role of father and accepted the responsibility without question. His family are eternally grateful to him.
The murder was an horrific event which would follow him right up to his own premature death aged 62.
But it was a measure of the giant of a man Tommy was that he was able to both find and spread happiness throughout his life and be a central figure in the Co Antrim community which held him so dear.
Tommy was born in Derry city in 1956 to Joe and his wife Rosemary, who survives him. He lived in Moneymore until he was six and Crossmaglen for two years before a transfer brought the newly-promoted Sgt Campbell to Cushendall.
Tommy, his mother and siblings visited at weekends until a house was available. He would tell stories of hiding on the golf course when it was time to leave that little bit of heaven they found in the Glens of Antrim.
School was St Mary's PS and St MacNissi's, Garron Tower, where his love of music and drama was nurtured.
At home Tommy was a great help looking after the growing family. He could cook and bake and nurse a baby like a natural.
St Joseph’s training college in Belfast came next and it was at St Mary's High School, Limavady where he found his calling as a teacher, youth tutor and mentor; he spent 32 happy and fulfilling years there.
A testament to that was the visits from so many colleagues and past pupils during his short illness. Tommy was a dad and big brother to so many and he took great pride telling of pupils doing what made them happy.
Tommy was so involved in his community: he played golf from an early age, holding the position of Cushendall club captain; he was a Gaelic footballer with Con Magees, Glenravel; he played rugby with Ballymoney and Armoy; he also hurled one season with Oisins, Glenariffe. At the time of his passing he was honoured to be the vice-chairman of Antrim GAA.
But it was the Ruairí Ógs of Cushendall who held his heart, with his lifelong attachment as a committee member, player and mentor enhanced by following his son Eoghan down the years.
More recently, his younger brother Philip was privileged to have him assist him as senior team manager, where his influence, wise counsel and wholehearted passion were respected by players and management alike.
Tommy took to the stage to represent the Ruairís in the Scór ballad group for many years and was the chairman of Lurig Drama Group, where he enjoyed so many memorable performances.
He had a real empathy and interest in people and his storytelling kept many Glens characters alive.
With his love of reading and phenomenal memory he was a local Mastermind, regular Irish News crossword winner, a contestant on TV quiz Fifteen to 1 and everybody’s 'phone a friend'.
He also sang with the Glens Choir, his velvet base voice taking leading roles in operas and musicals, concerts and religious celebrations.
Lasting friendships were made and there wasn’t a dry eye when they sang The Green Glens of Antrim as Tommy's coffin was carried from St Mary’s Church.
"May the sandy soil of his native Cushendall rest lightly on a good and decent man," said his friend John 'Curly' McIlwaine.
Three decades earlier the church had witnessed the happy occasion of Tommy's marriage to Joan McAlister.
They met leaving the Central Bar one evening in 1984 when Tommy asked if he could walk her home. Romance blossomed with drinks after camogie training and walks on the beach and the devoted couple held hands ever since.
They shared everything: golf, rugby and GAA, walks on the beach with their beautiful white husky Nala, and socialising with friends. Even a night in was date night and Tommy would bring Joan flowers each Friday just because she was ‘my wee pet’.
They were blessed with three children, Aine, Ciara and Eoghan, who made their life complete. They encouraged them to spread their wings and find their way in life, knowing that mum and dad were always there.
On February 4 this year, Tommy had to share the devastating news of a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. His immediate thoughts were for his family.
After a few days in hospital he returned home to openly welcome the many people who wanted to remember the happier times they had shared.
He faced his illness with great courage and dignity, travelling to Dublin to watch the RuairI Ógs, applauding the Antrim hurlers against Westmeath and London, and smiling as his Lurig colleagues performed the play he had to withdraw from. On March 21, the sun glistened over the Sea of Moyle as Tommy and Joan walked the shores of Cushendall Beach.
Tommy was hurt that his mother was saying goodbye to another son and knew that it was difficult for his siblings Joey, Mandy, Paula, Rosemary, Sara and Philip. They are comforted that their father Joe and brother Peter were waiting to take his hand.
His wife and children will now be in everybody’s thoughts and prayers. Tommy is never far away, he lives on in them - take time to listen for him, he is there.
Tommy Campbell died on March 25 and his month’s mind Mass will be celebrated in St Mary’s Church, Cushendall on Friday April 26 at 7.30pm.