Rugby ace Ferris saddened by the death of ex-paper boy George (100)
Former Lions, Ireland and Ulster rugby star Stephen Ferris has paid a heartfelt tribute to centenarian George Kirkpatrick, from Belfast, who passed away on Tuesday.
The Belfast Telegraph had attended George's 100th birthday party in January this year at which he spoke fondly of his boyhood memories selling our former sister paper, Ireland's Saturday Night, known by many readers as The Pink.
"We would put our money together, jump on the trams and sell them at inns. If my mother had known she would have whacked me," George had said.
Remarkably, he was also one of seven wounded in the UDA attack on Sean Graham's bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in 1992. Five others died in the massacre but George recovered with only lead poisoning in his leg.
Born on January 1, 1916, George was raised near the Shankill Road in Belfast, moving to Coleraine in later life. He spent many years as an engineer in Belfast's shipyard and later in Bombardier and Rolls Royce.
He enjoyed boxing as a young man and kept fit into his final year, going walking every day. Sadly a bad fall in which he broke his hip caused his health to deteriorate.
Former Irish rugby international Ferris, who is engaged to George's great-granddaughter Lara McNally, said he was "an unbelievable character who will be very much missed by his family".
"He was known as Geordie. When I first met him he was mad about rugby and loved talking about it. I was playing then and he enjoyed watching it on the TV," he said.
"A couple of months ago I was chatting with him and he said, 'I seen you on the TV the other night, what's going on with this Ulster Rugby team?' It's unbelievable you can have that conversation with someone over a 100 years of age. It's very rare.
"Any time I met him at Christmas he had one tin of cider and that was it, but he was able to finish his dinner and would get up and walk around. It was a pleasure to get to know him and hear stories about being over in Las Vegas and playing pitch and toss when he was a youngster and going to the boxing club."
Stephen said he was amazed that George had "bounced back" after being shot "seven or eight times" in 1992.
"He suffered a bit from lead poisoning in the leg but he didn't let that bother him," he said.
"He just got on with things, he just loved life. He said to me he wanted to get back into the sea at some stage but the lead poisoning in his leg was hampering him.
"That's when he was 97 years old which is crazy. He'll be really badly missed - he was a great character with lots of stories," he added.
Many who knew him recall one incident where the fire brigade was called out to his home at two in the morning, all because he had been cooking fish in the middle of the night and let the smoke alarms off.
Photographer Mark Jamieson, who attended George's 100th birthday party, recalled how the pensioner had told him: "I was hungry, I had to cook something!"
George's wife Emma passed away in 1993 as well as his daughter Margaret last year after a cancer diagnosis. Speaking in January he said: "I miss them desperately."
He added that his long life had been down to keeping fit. "I am a firm believer in, 'If you don't use it, you lose it'. My friends all kid me on because I go out at all times for a dander."
Aged 13 he worked in a barber's shop and joined a boxing club. "With my money I bought Mr (Charles) Atlas's chest expanders, but I never got a body like his."
Asked for his advice to the next generation, he said: "Gambling took me down. Stay off the drink and the gambling. Just live and enjoy your life while you have it."