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Lindy McDowell: Work colleagues can often become friends as well... and our Eddie was one of the best

Eddie McIlwaine
Eddie McIlwaine

By Lindy McDowell

One of the great benefits of any job is not just the pay packet that sorts the bills at the end of the month, but the real friendships forged down the years as you and your fellow workers toil away, noses not always as firmly pressed to the grindstone as management might imagine.

In my years at the Belfast Telegraph I've had the privilege of working with some of the greatest journalists in the game.

The Belfast Telegraph is described as a provincial paper. But as with other local news outlets the dark reality of the Troubles and the ensuing legacy of those years of murder and mayhem meant that journalists, then and now, worked on stories that few other "provincial" news teams ever had to deal with. Stories that chilled the soul and made headlines globally.

All of us were marked by the horror unfolding around us. You couldn't not be.

But the foil to that was the camaraderie of the office, the banter, the gossip, the occasional dark muttering about the bosses and the bond of genuine friendship.

Wherever you work I think it's the same. Over time your colleagues gradually become more than just co-workers. You sympathise with each other when times are hard and celebrate together life's happier milestones. You shed tears for them when they lose someone they love. And they for you. In many ways your lives criss-cross. You watch each other's backs. You watch each other's children grow up. You watch each other grow older...

Among those I was lucky enough to work with down the years - and to count as good friends - was Roy Lilley, the editor of this paper during the worst of the Troubles and as honourable and courageous a man as I have ever known. And the great Billy Simpson, the wittiest and finest of wordsmiths. I always wished I could write like Billy.

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Then there was my dear friend Dympna; John Caruth on the subs desk; Larry White, another whose writing skills I envy; Billy Graham, that kindest of men; the sadly deceased 'Thack the Hack'; our former editor Marty; Gail, the current and first female editor of the paper...

I could go on all day.

Another great man and good friend, Walter Macauley, was our librarian. In the days before online records, reports and background material were filed in brown cardboard sleeves neatly stacked row upon row.

One section of the library was devoted to individual files on every single death in the conflict. When you looked at it, this tangible, visible illustration of the scale of the lives lost, you couldn't fail to be moved.

God knows what suffering each of those stiff brown envelopes represented. What heartache they held within.

One of my colleagues in particular used to comment on that.

My dear old friend Eddie McIlwaine who died this week was, as so many tributes paid to him have noted, a truly great journalist, a gifted writer, a man who wrote straight from the heart and whose reports during the bleakest years of the Troubles were as much scribed in his own tears as in ink.

But readers also knew the lighter side of Eddie in his Ulster Log and his legendary coverage of the entertainment world.

He was a man who loved people. Above all Eddie just adored his family. And they him.

As he said himself many times, Irene, his wife, truly was Eddie's rock. And he was so undisguisedly proud of his beautiful daughter Zara and son Edward. Was there ever a picture of the pair he didn't bring into work for us to admire?

Eddie McIlwaine, a big-hearted, lovely man - a legend of local journalism. And above all, our friend, who'll be sadly missed.

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