Belfast Telegraph

Tributes for veteran Armagh journalist Joy Rolston

By Ivan Little

A second prominent Co Armagh journalist has died inside a fortnight.

Former Armagh Guardian editor Joy Rolston passed away only days after the death of Portadown journalist Victor Gordon, who had edited the same paper for a time.

Friends said she died peacefully in the Southern Area Hospice in Newry on Saturday.

Joy, who was 80, was a pioneering reporter in Northern Ireland, starting her career in an era when the majority of journalists here were men.

The former Joy Somerville was born in Portadown and her family were involved in the grocery business there.

But as a teenager in the 1950s she set her sights on becoming a journalist and began as a cub reporter on the old Portadown Times newspaper under editor WH Wolsey, who was twice mayor of his home town.

After marriage Joy moved to live in Armagh and friends said she fell in love with the city.

Some years later she set up her own successful freelance journalism business alongside close friend Alice Phillips, who died several years ago.

One contemporary said: "Joy was a legend in Armagh. Everyone knew her work and respected her as a tireless and fair reporter who covered the Troubles for a wide range of newspapers and broadcasters.

"She was flamboyant and she could be feisty, but she never missed a story."

Joy reported on a massive number of terrorist incidents in Co Armagh, including the murders of the Speaker of the old Stormont parliament Sir Norman Stronge and his son James at their historic home at Tynan Abbey near Caledon. Reporters came to rely heavily on her for tip-offs and guidance about what was happening in her area and for advice about who should be approached for interviews.

Joy was also an invaluable and impeccable source of information about courts in Armagh and further afield.

Her shorthand skills were the envy of many reporters on the Press benches beside her.

Politicians and journalists have paid tribute.

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson, a former mayor of Armagh, said: "Joy was an all-encompassing journalist who had her finger on the pulse of every facet of news coming out of Armagh and district."

Retired journalist Brian Courtney started his career in Portadown at around the same time as Joy. He called her a first division reporter from the start "in a male-dominated profession".

Fellow Co Armagh journalist Billy Kennedy, who described Joy as a close friend, said she was a professional journalist to her fingertips.

He added:" She was totally reliable. You could always depend on Joy to file as much detail as you needed for a story, no matter what the hour, day or night."

Armagh exile in England Harty Ervine said online: "Joy was the voice of Armagh and was proud of her home city."

Away from her work Joy's interests were diverse from the arts to sport.

She sponsored a trophy at Armagh's speech and drama festival and she was also a supporter of the local cricket club.

She was pre-deceased by her husband John.

Her funeral service will be held in Cheevers funeral home on Armagh's Hamiltonsbawn Road today at 2pm before burial in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

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