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UTV broadcaster Rose Neill's tears for 'amazing' mother who made sure her children lived life to the full

Family, friends and UTV colleagues comfort distraught broadcaster

By Allan Preston

Published 04/06/2016

The coffin of Rose Neill’s mother Doreen Neill-Johnston is carried into Kilmood Parish Church yesterday
The coffin of Rose Neill’s mother Doreen Neill-Johnston is carried into Kilmood Parish Church yesterday
Rose as a child on a skiing holiday with her parents
Rose Neill with mother Doreen Neill-Johnston
The Order of Service
The Order of Service
Marc Mallet
Rose Neill with her husband Ivan Wilson
BBC journalist Karen Patterson
UTV colleague Ruth Gorman
Marc Mallett with Rose Neill

A hunting horn sounded in Killinchy yesterday for the funeral of Doreen Neill-Johnston, the mother of UTV broadcaster Rose Neill.

Around 200 mourners gathered in Kilmood Parish Church to pay their respects to the 85-year-old, who died two weeks ago after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Her family said she was an "amazing lady".

The funeral was conducted by the Reverend Stanley Gamble, and the hymns included Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and Abide With Me.

While the service was kept private, towards the end a touching musical tribute - Andrea Bocelli's Time To Say Goodbye - could be heard clearly from the church.

The burial was held in the adjoining cemetery, and as the ceremony ended, close friend Declan J Feeney - dressed in traditional hunting clothes - sounded the hunting horn to say farewell.

Rose was comforted by members of her family and UTV colleagues after saying goodbye to her much-loved mother.

Last night, her husband Ivan Wilson said his wife was still too upset to talk about her mother, with whom she shared an incredibly close bond.

"It is still too raw and emotional for Rose," he added.

"She has been overwhelmed by the love and support around her in recent days.

"Her mum was an amazing lady who is going to be missed by everyone.

"We have a very wide circle of friends and family who are supporting us today."

Mr Feeney - who has the title of The Huntsman of East Down Foxhounds - explained that Ms Neill-Johnston had personally requested his hunting horn tribute.

"That was something she wanted me to do," he said.

"When I blew on the hunting horn, that indicated the hunt going away - when a fox goes away from cover and you blow gone away. A lot of people request that when they die.

"She loved her hunting and she was very keen that's what I do for her."

He explained that she remained active with the sport, retaining the title Master of the Foxhounds, into her 70s.

"She was a great woman," he said. "She didn't mess about. She would have gone where we went. She didn't just trot round the roads."

Describing the funeral service he added: "It was very emotional. My own mother now is at the first stages of Alzheimer's, and I know what we have in front of us and I know what this family have gone through. It's a very difficult time."

Remembering happier times, Mr Feeney said: "She liked a bit of craic and she knew how to throw a party."

Mourner Tom Edgar had also known Ms Neill-Johnston during her days with the East Down Hunt.

"I found her to be a homely and nice lady," he said.

"She was very interested and respectful in the countryside of other people's property. She was a real lady on the hunting field."

The family asked for donations to be made to dementia research being undertaken by Professor Passmore at Queen's University.

In a previous interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Rose spoke of how close she was to her mother and the painful experience of seeing her endure Alzheimer's.

Ms Neill-Johnston had been the wife of the late Roger HJ Neill and Edward I Johnston. She was also mother to Maxine and Peter as well as a grandmother.

Doreen's first husband Roger owned a shipping and coal importing company.

"My parents threw the most fantastic parties and they made sure that as children we really enjoyed our lives to the full," Ms Neill said in 2014.

"We were taken to the races, hunting, shooting, boating, fishing, travelling... it was idyllic."

She described her mother as "very glamorous and slim and always beautifully dressed and threw the most lovely dinner parties".

"She loved to snow and water ski, sub aqua dive, swim and ride horses," she added.

"She was exceptionally fit and she instilled in all of us that love for a physical, sporting life."

Rose previously described her mother's pride in her broadcasting career.

"Mum was my best critic," she said. "She was no more proud of my TV career than if I had become a dispensing optician or anything else."

And in a 2006 interview, she said: "Mum was always very close to all of us. Mum was a stay-at-home mum, but a very pretty, glamorous one.

"I suppose she remembered the war, when food and clothes were rationed, and then came the 60s, with all its high fashion and liberation and fun."

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