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Austin Hunter funeral: Northern Ireland journalist and 'people person' laid to rest

Austin Hunter, the former BBC journalist and News Letter editor, has been laid to rest in Co Down.

The 64-year-old died in a traffic accident in Bahrain while working as a media consultant.

He spent a life-time documenting much of Northern Ireland's troubled history.  As well as his roles in the media he was also head of public relations for the RUC and BBC press office. He began his working life with the Strabane Weekly & the Tyrone Constitution.

A service of thanksgiving for his life was held at Second Presbyterian, Comber, on Monday.

Many political figures and those from the world of broadcasting and journalism were among his many friends and family to pay their respects.

His son Simon told mourners: "To many of you dad was a friend, a mentor, a confidante, a colleague, a boss, a sounding board, a team-mate, even a taxi driver at the end of the night.

"But to our family he was – in rough order - a son to Billy and Eileen, a brother to Adrian, a husband of 42 years to mum, a brother-in-law to John, Shelia and Lynda, a father to Rachael and I, a father-in-law to Angela and Nick and latterly, perhaps his favourite role of all, he was grandpa to Matthew and Heidi.

"Thank you so much for all the tributes. My dad would probably have put the fact he led so many news bulletins on TV and radio and got the front pages down to a slow news day.

"And as he often said in his PR roles, he got paid to keep certain stories out of the papers. This was one we certainly never hoped to read. But we all took great comfort from so many highly respected people saying so many wonderful things.

Mr Hunter continued: "I’ve repeatedly said in recent days it often takes the worst of times to reveal the best in people. And we know we are fortunate to have so many caring people around us.

"We’re all hurting. I never want this feeling of devastation to visit anyone else’s door. We’ve been flattened. But we must rebuild. And the first person to say that would have been dad.

"Those of you who knew dad well will know there are certain rules you just have to abide by. You keep your chin up, you treat people the way you would like to be treated and you do anything you can for your family and friends.

"He always taught us that the person who opened the door was every bit as important as the one behind the walnut desk. That’s been reflected in the support we have received from absolutely every aspect of dad’s life.

"We all knew dad had a wonderful career, worked for some fantastic organisations, alongside some extremely talented people. But it was the fact so many tributes mentioned what a good man he was, his big smile, his willingness to help people. Those were the lines we enjoyed, those are the memories we will hold dear.

"Dad once told me ‘always leave them wanting more’. He certainly succeeded in that himself."

Addressing the congregation Reverend Roy Mackay, minister of Second Comber, said a "sense of shock" hit the Co Down town on news of Mr Hunter's passing.

He said: "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.

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

"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.

"He has been described as a man of deep integrity, respected, insightful, supportive, a terrific communicator and courteous.

"Professionally, Austin was one of the best. He was doing what he enjoyed most when he tragically lost his life in Bahrain."

Rev Mackay added: "While much has been made of his professional life - family was number one.

"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.

"As Austin’s minister for over twenty years, I got to know Austin - a church elder since 1986 - well.

"For me Austin was very much a people person, always interested in the individual as a person. Conversation was never any trouble to him.

"His faith and belief in God were important foundations giving meaning to life.

"Today, we reflect with thanks. We smile at incidents. Some cry. We share in a mixture of good memories and deep sadness. But collectively we thank God for every fond remembrance of Austin."

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