Belfast Telegraph

Sir John Gorman death: Tributes to politician and war hero who left a lasting legacy

By Chris Kilpatrick

Sir John Gorman, a decorated war veteran and prominent Catholic unionist politician, has been hailed as leaving a lasting impression on public life and commerce in Northern Ireland.

Sir John – who previously represented North Down as an Ulster Unionist MLA – died at a nursing home in Co Down. He was 91.

He  was awarded the British Military Cross and French Croix de Guerre for his actions in leading his Irish Guards crew to safety after their tank came under sustained attack during the Second World War.

Following the war, Sir John joined the RUC and rose to the rank of district inspector.

During a varied career he later held posts with British Airways and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998 – the same year he was knighted in the Queen's Birthday honours.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Sir John was a unique character.

"It is rather poignant that on the very day we complete a European election count to return Northern Ireland's MEPs to Brussels, we should learn of the death of a man who liberated that city 70 years ago," Mr Nesbitt said.

"Sir John achieved success in a number of fields. He was a war hero, a great public servant and a leading Catholic unionist."

Mr Nesbitt said he last spoke to Sir John at a party meeting last year.

"He was barely mobile and said he was there simply to support me. I was humbled by that gesture and in his death I am inspired to deliver better politics as a tribute to his memory," he added.

Sir John was educated at Loreto Grammar school in Omagh, Glasgow University and Harvard Business School.

He became one of the few high-profile Catholic unionist politicians in Northern Ireland.

Following his election to the Assembly, he went on to hold the position of Deputy Speaker.

"All in all, he made a tremendous contribution to public life and commercial life in Northern Ireland," said former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey

"I remember him because of his charm – he was a delightful person, he was well-read, he was courteous.

"His breadth of vision and knowledge made him a very entertaining person to talk to and to be in his company socially or, indeed, politically."

The Speaker of the Assembly, DUP MLA William Hay, said Sir John was hugely respected in local politics.

"The constant theme through Sir John's life was one of public service and dedication to the community in a variety of significant roles from military service through to being elected, like me, as a Member of the Assembly in 1998," he said.

The SDLP's Alex Attwood was among those who paid tribute to Sir John, as was Alliance minister Dr Stephen Farry.

The Alliance MLA for North Down – which Sir John represented from 1998 to 2003 – said he had served the area with distinction.

Dr Farry added: "Sir John was always fair and honest as a politician and his time as chair of the Talks Forum outlined his commitment to politics and the peace process.

"While he served as a Deputy Speaker during a difficult time in the first Assembly, we must commend the contribution he made to the institution."

Obituary: Sir John Gorman's remarkable life on the home front and abroad 

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