Belfast Telegraph

It'll be hats off for former mayor at Palace ceremony

Former Mayor of Antrim Mervyn Rea (67) can't make up his mind which of his 80-plus favourite hats he will wear to Buckingham Palace in the spring to pick up a gong from the Queen for services to the community.

You see, Mervyn is a collector of police hats from around the globe. The unionist politician who was awarded the MBE in the New Year Honours, is pictured here in an RUC riot helmet from the 80s. His most prized headgear is the cap worn by Hugh Orde when he was Chief Constable here. In his collection too are the hats of a Garda Siochana Superintendent, one from Queensland and another once worn by an Isle of Man officer on the beat.

You could say it's a fair cop for Mervyn when he is asked to put on exhibitions of a collection which he finds so arresting. He saves cop headgear the way other people save stamps.

He has 1,000 model police cars as well as scores of badges and belts from forces everywhere, and even a set of handcuffs. It must be one of the largest collections of its kind outside a museum.

He is also a member of the worldwide Police Insignia Collectors Association.

And, just for the record, he has never been arrested or even questioned by the police.

However, his wife Thelma insists that the grandfather of four, who was Mayor of Antrim from 2002-3, will be going to the Palace bare headed. She and Mervyn will be accompanied by their daughter Sharon and son Mervyn junior, who is coming home from Oz for the occasion.

Mervyn heard about his MBE only days after undergoing heart surgery. "It was a tonic," says the man who is still recovering from the operation. "The letter from the Palace arrived when I really was feeling ill."

Yet his heart problem hasn't stopped him from planning the conversion of the roof space of his home at Nutt's Corner into a viewing room for his police hats.

In spite of his illness, 2011 ended on a high for Mervyn. For, as well as receiving the MBE, he was honoured by being elected to the eldership of Killead Presbyterian Church where he has worshipped all his life. And right now he is helping to organise an early spring dance in Ballyhill Orange Hall on February 3 with keyboard player Norman Houston (Houstie) as the main attraction.

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