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Back then: Norman's parting shot a fine memorial

Publisher's legacy is posthumous book sure to charm any Irish railway enthusiast

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 05/05/2015

Norman Johnston aboard one of his beloved engines
Norman Johnston aboard one of his beloved engines
A picture of a locomotive taken at Whitehead in 1973

Publisher Norman Johnston knew he was dying. Consultants had just told the 65-year-old he had untreatable cancer and had two months to live.

It was there and then on July 10 last year, as he lay in bed reflecting on his mortality, that Norman, a respected railway historian, decided to write a book around all the photographs of trains and stations he had taken down the years.

"I have no fear of death," this founder of Colourpoint Books in Newtownards assured his wife Sheila and sons Wesley and Malcolm.

"My only worry is that I am able to finish the task in the eight weeks left to me."

In fact Norman finished the manuscript just seven days before he passed away on August 31, 2014.

The book, now published posthumously, draws from his collection of photographs taken on Irish railways between 1964 and 1973, accompanied by extended captions, anecdotes and personal reflections.

The tome is his parting shot as his time on Earth slipped away. Ironically, it is called Parting Shot (Colourpoint £16) and will be a memorial to a courageous man who refused to wallow in self-pity in his last days.

Sheila, his wife of 39 years, described Norman as an indefatigable human being.

"I sat on many a windy platform while he waited for the next train he wanted to photograph," she recalled.

"I held his cameras and lenses and carried them in my handbag. He would arrange pleasant holidays and I would discover that, by amazing coincidence, there was a preserved line just down the road!"

Norman was a teacher in his early working life and served as a lay preacher in his day. He and Sheila founded Colourpoint in 1993 and it has published quite a few best-sellers. He never let an attack of polio, which nearly killed him as a baby, stand in his way, although it left him with a disability.

"When he knew he was dying Norman put in an order to God for a new and better body in Heaven," added Sheila

This grandfather-of- four dedicated the royalties to a fund for restoring a GNR railway system. He concluded his last book on page 160 with a picture he took way in July 1973 and which I reproduce. It was taken by Norman at Whitehead, Co Antrim, and is of NCC WT Class No 4 locomotive - a favourite of his.

Belfast Telegraph

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