James Brown MBE is the retired managing director of James Brown and Sons, Funeral Directors. He is married to Sandra and they have two grown-up children, Beverley and James.
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
A. I lived in east Belfast since my birth in 1944 until I married in 1970. My parents, Jim and Grace Brown, were both born in east Belfast and lived in the Ballyhackamore area all their married life. They had four children: Stanley, Irene, Albert and me. Sadly, Stanley and Irene died relatively young, but thankfully Albert is still alive and resides in Knock. After I married Sandra, our first home was in the Castlereagh Hills, then we built a house outside Newtownards before moving back to Belfast in 1980.
I attended Strandtown Primary and Ashfield Boys' Intermediate. Although it is a long time ago, I can still recall that school days were far from enjoyable. They were always a struggle and I was glad to leave school at the age of 15. As the years progressed, I realised I had made a mistake and should have been more interested in my education. My main interest as a teenager was to work in the family company on the Newtownards Road - James Brown & Sons. Business fascinated me as young person and still does. In 2010, I was appointed MBE for services to the local community.
Sandra and I have two children, Beverley and James. Beverley is self-employed; she lives and works in Belfast. I'm particularly pleased that she still has a role in the company. James is a barrister and practices at the London Bar. He lives in Kent.
James Brown & Sons is no longer owned by the Brown family, but I am still actively involved in the business after over 60 years and now in a consultant capacity. Funerals have had a profound effect on me, constantly reminding me of my mortality. It has been a real privilege to help and support many bereaved families. I never got used to being involved in funerals, as every one is very personal. Being a funeral director is a vocation, which at times is challenging, but immensely fulfilling. If I had to live my life again, I would choose the same path, or a similar one.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. My father and mother were both Christians. Church attendance was the norm for us and the teachings of the Bible about the sinfulness of mankind and Jesus Christ as the only Saviour were very much part of my upbringing. I decided in my early teens to trust and follow Christ. I have never regretted doing so.
Q. Is this faith only for Sundays?
A. My worldview is deeply influenced by my understanding of biblical doctrine, which impacts every aspect of my life, regardless of the day of the week.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith? Or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. When I was young, I did have some doubts, but I always found reassurance and solace by reading the Scriptures and reflecting on them.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A. My father died suddenly, after a stroke, when I was 21. I was not angry with God, but I did wonder what was happening at the time. I distinctly remember praying that I would be given the strength to trust the Lord to help me face his loss and I firmly believe my prayer was answered.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith? And are you able to live with that criticism?
A. I don't recall being openly criticised, but I am sure some people have done so on occasions. Could I cope with criticism? Absolutely.
Q. Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A. I am not afraid to die, but I'm not looking forward to the experience. However, when the time comes, I trust I will know the truth of Psalm 23: "When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid, for the Lord will be with me." My aspiration would be to know the reality of St Paul's statement, "to die is gain".
Q. Are you afraid of hell?
A. No, because the Bible is crystal clear that no follower of Jesus Christ will ever experience it.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A. Yes, because it's clearly taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Quotations from the Bible give me real assurance.
St Paul wrote about life after death: "When we shall see Him (Jesus) we shall be like Him." I can think of nothing loftier for any human being.
Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A. While I do not agree with the teachings of some denominations, or other faiths, I trust I have regard and respect for my fellow man. Everyone is free to make their own choice; mine is to commend my understanding of the teachings of the Bible. For a large part of my life, I was a member of two non-denominational churches in east Belfast; then, for 10 years, I went to a parish church near my home. More recently, I have been a member of an independent evangelical church in south Belfast.
Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. By and large, yes. But they could do more.
Q. Why are so many people turning their backs on organised religion?
A. It appears they prefer the secular life.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. Christians (and those of other faiths) have helped in ways almost too numerous to mention. The Salvation Army is an outstanding example.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A. The film is Casablanca - great story and memorable music. My book would be The Day of the Jackal - intrigue on every page. For music, Danny Boy - full of emotion.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. In some church buildings, or the mountains in Switzerland.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone, if any?
A. "With Christ which is far better." (Phil 1:23)
Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?
A. The things that I have left undone!