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Funeral service held for highly-respected journalist

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Funeral service held for highly-respected journalist thumbnailAustin Hunter.

FURTHER tribute has been paid to well-known and highly-respected media man, Austin Hunter, who was tragically killed while working abroad.

Mr Hunter, who began his journalistic career with the Strabane Weekly News and Tyrone Constitution where he worked for almost a decade before moving on to other high profile roles within the media and public relations sector, died after being knocked down by a vehicle in Bahrain in the Middle East.

A former editor of the News Letter, the 64-year-old was on business working as a media consultant at the time.

On Monday, hundreds of mourners gathered at Second Presbyterian Church in Comber, Co Down, for a service of thanksgiving for his life.

Many political figures, including First Minister Arlene Foster and those from the world of journalism and PR were among the many friends and former colleagues who gathered to pay their respects to the father-of-two.

During the service, which was led by Rev Roy Mackay, Minister of Second Comber, a touching and emotional tribute was read by Mr Hunter's son Simon.

Rev Noble McNeely of First Holywood Presbyterian Church, where Mr Hunter and his wife have been members since moving to the town a year ago, led prayer and delivered a scripture reading. He said the former journalist had made a "big impact" during his short-time with the church. Mr Hunter's daughter, Rachael, also read a scripture.

Addressing the congregation in the same church where Mr Hunter was ordained an elder in 1986, Rev Mackay spoke of the "disbelief and sadness" when news of his tragic passing was announced last Sunday.

Born and reared at Artigarvan, Rev Mackay said his rural upbringing helped "shape Austin into the person he became".

 

'Roots'

"Values such as hard work, having a sense of independence and integrity never left him. As many in his professional life remarked, these traits were always at the forefront of his life. Austin never forgot his roots in Tyrone.

"He attended a small country primary school known as Ballylaw - it no longer exists. On the morning of the 'qualifying examination', as it was then known, for secondary education, Austin's father's car broke down en-route to the exam centre.

"Austin immediately got a lift on a bin lorry to the venue! Once again, at even an early age, he remained unflappable and passed the exam enabling him to gain a place at Strabane Grammar School," he said.

Rev Mackay also spoke of Mr Hunter's love for sport, particularly hockey and cricket. Hockey clubs, including Raphoe, observed a minute's silence in his memory before matches on Saturday.

He continued: "Leaving Strabane Grammar, Austin went to the Belfast College of Business and Journalism - but only for three months. A space for a young reporter had arisen back in his home town of Strabane and so he took the opportunity, commencing his working life as reporter for the Strabane Weekly and the Tyrone Constitution.

"From that point there followed a career which took Austin to the top of his profession to which many of his colleagues have testified over this past week.

"Austin sometimes told me that he got a "buzz" from journalism and reporting that never left him. He said to me that "he loved words" and how they could be used and be shaped to convey events and issues. He loved his large display of books and would say to me, "Have you seen this one?" as he showed me a recent purchase.

"Austin's career would span the next several decades. He would report on some of the most difficult and challenging times in the province's history and politics.

 

Tribute

"How could I possibly pay tribute to Austin's long career in just a few lines? The media itself has done so in an exceptional way and much more adequately than I could. Therefore, I simply extract the following lines from the newspapers to describe him: 'deep integrity and respected', 'insightful', 'supportive of colleagues', 'terrific communicator' and 'courteous'.

While enjoying a distinguished career, Rev Mackay said family life was what mattered to him most.

"While much has been said of Austin's career, that was never the most important area of his life - family was number one and never was demoted," Rev Mackay said.

He and his wife Jean, a native of Sion Mills married on New Year's Eve 1974 and were a "partnership in the true sense of married life: they acted as one", mourners were told.

"Simon and Rachael, you filled your father's vision. When grandchildren were born a close and deep bond of attachment emerged between Austin and Matthew and Heidi - he always wanted to spend time with them. This was one of the main reasons he and Jean moved to Holywood.

"In conversations, Austin would have said to me that because he would be away from home at all hours, he made sure that you as a family unit had one good holiday each year.

"He said that was sacrosanct even when money was not plentiful. He told me that family memories of being together like this could not be replaced by money or gifts," the minister continued.

Mr Hunter is survived by his wife Jean, son Simon, daughter Rachael, brother Adrian, and grandchildren Matthew and Heidi. His step-father, Jim Gilmore, resides in Omagh.

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