Fermanaghand South Tyrone MLA Arlene Foster has paid a heartfelt tribute to her “darling daddy” John Kelly whose sudden death last week has shocked the entire community, and left a family mourning the loss of a “very special” man.
The Enterprise Minister was told the distressing news by ’phone on Friday after touching down in London to attend a tourism event.
“The fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye is probably the hardest thing...the fact that daddy’s not going to be here any more is difficult to take in,” she said.
Mr Kelly (81) died suddenly at the Lisnaskea home he shared with his wife Georgina.
They were married for more than 50 years.
It’s believed he suffered a heart attack.
Mrs Foster said: “You always think, when did I last see him? What did I say to him?
“The shock of it has been the hardest thing to take because the last time I saw daddy was Sunday past.
“I often come up on Sunday to see my parents and he was on grand form; chatting, the television was on.
“The last time I saw him he stood at the door and waved at us as we went off,” she recalled.
The former policeman — who survived being shot in the head by the IRA in 1979 — was father to Arlene, Linda, Julie and David; and grandfather to 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Mrs Foster describes her father as a “friendly, down-to-earth man with a jolly smile who lived for his family”.
On Friday morning, she left her home in Brookeborough bound for London.
Arriving at Heathrow Airport after 10am she turned on her phone without realising the heart-rending news that was about to come.
“The text messages started to come through.
“One of them was from Brian [her husband] telling me to ring him urgently.
“When I phoned him back I would never in a million years have thought it was going to be about daddy,” she said.
Mrs Foster then had an agonising wait for a flight back to Belfast, and didn’t get home to Fermanagh until after 4pm that evening.
It’s understood her father hadn’t been well throughout the previous night, and had difficulty breathing.
“For my mother it’s comforting to know that nothing further could have been done.
“For daddy, it’s a very nice way to go because he hated doctors, nurses, hospitals and all of that sort of thing.
“One of his cousins was telling me that they had been at a funeral a while back and he had said to his cousin, a man who had suffered a long illness, ‘I would hate that’.
“Whilst it’s very difficult for the whole family, particularly mummy, to take in the fact that daddy’s not here any more, for him, it was probably the way he would have wanted to go,” she told the Impartial Reporter newspaper.
Several hundred mourners attended John Kelly’s funeral on Sunday at Holy Trinity Parish Church in Lisnaskea.
They included First Minister Peter Robinson and DUP party colleagues Nigel Dodds, Jeffrey Donaldson and Sammy Wilson.
Stormont ministers Alex Attwood and David Ford and Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott also paid their respects at the service for the former policeman.
A former B Special, Mr Kelly was the victim of an IRA gun attack in 1979 when he was shot in the head, but recovered and continued to serve as a police officer.