Farewell to Gerry Anderson, the man who could rename a city: Hundreds pay tribute at radio star's funeral
Hundreds of Gerry Anderson's fans joined a who's who of local celebrities to say an emotional farewell to the award-winning broadcaster in 'Stroke City' yesterday at a service that could scarcely have been farther removed from his daily show on Radio Ulster.
For starters, the Requiem Mass had a script and a running order – two things which were never part of the routine for Gerry, who conjured up his daily magic as he went along.
And the trappings of the profession that made Gerry one of the most loved figures in Northern Ireland were absent from St Eugene's Cathedral, where the 69-year-old star had been baptised and where he used to serve Mass as an altar boy and sing in the choir.
At the request of Gerry's wife Christine and their family, there were no cameras or radio microphones in the 900-seat cathedral, where mourners stood seven deep at the back to pay homage to the father-of-two who died on Thursday after a two-year illness – a struggle described by a priest as a "pilgrimage of suffering".
The service was a purely religious one, with no addresses from any of the famous faces who thronged the church.
Showbiz it was not, even though well-known people like Eamonn Holmes, Stephen Nolan, Gerry Kelly, Phil Coulter, Dana and John Linehan were all there to pay their respects to their colourful friend.
Politicians like Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and the Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, who knew Anderson from his days as a broadcaster, were also among the mourners.
But during the service there were musical tributes to the former showband guitarist, and none was more poignant than the saxophone lament played by another Derry/Londonderry legend Gay McIntyre, who sent a shiver down a thousand spines with his haunting rendition of Danny Boy.
And as Gerry's friend and colleague Sean Coyle, together with his show's producer Mickey Bradley, aka the Undertone, carried the coffin from the cathedral, the musicians struck up The Homes Of Donegal, another love of the broadcaster's life.
After Sean, who presented Gerry's show for the two years of his enforced absence, walked out from the cathedral, he wiped away a tear from his eye.
He wasn't the only one.
Cathedral administrator Fr Paul Farren had told mourners that Gerry Anderson was a "man who knew who he was".
He added: "We gather to give thanks to God for Gerry's life and for all the gifts and joy and entertainment that so many people received through Gerry, especially those into whose lives he brought light and joy when light could be dim and joy hard to find."
He said everybody knew Gerry Anderson but only his family really knew him. He added that he was a public figure but an intensely private man who died too soon.
Fr Farren said Gerry could entertain the masses but was never happier than when he was at home with his family around him. He said they described him as being a simple man who enjoyed simple things.
He said he was a man who could rename a city – a reference to his solving the problem of what to call Derry/Londonderry by inventing the compromise, Stroke City.
Fr Farren said the broadcaster, writer and musician was a man with an enormous and unique talent together with boundless generosity. He said he was always true to himself – a famous man who was unaffected by fame.
Outside the cathedral Holmes said that Anderson was one of the "big beasts" in Irish broadcasting. He said he and Gerry often caught the same plane to London on "sad" Sunday nights during the Derry man's ill-fated stint on Radio Four.
"I don't think he ever wanted to be there," said Eamonn, who added: "He broke all the rules and he enjoyed breaking all the rules. He was mischievous. And I think people liked that about him – he was like a naughty schoolboy, but he had the musings of a wise old man."
Nolan, whose raucous hand-overs to Anderson after his morning show became as popular as their programmes, said: "He was a magnificent broadcaster. He enjoyed being edgy but he knew where the edge was. That's how smart he was."
Stephen said despite their on-air banter Gerry had been a source of great encouragement to him from his earliest days on Radio Ulster.
He added: "Gerry was great to me. I lent on his experience an awful lot. And if I got in trouble, he was always the first person on the phone to give me advice and support.
"He would always say 'All right, our kid? I know you're in diffs but here's what you do. Lie low for a while and let it blow over."
Coulter said that he had lost a friend, that broadcasting had lost a giant and that Derry had lost a treasure.
TalkSport presenter Colin Murray said Gerry was an inspiration to him and countless other people from inside the world of broadcasting and outside it. He added: "He genuinely cared about his listeners."
And that was borne out by the presence in the cathedral of huge numbers of Anderson's most fervent admirers who came to Derry from all over Northern Ireland. Former Crusaders footballer Arthur 'Mousy' Brady, who's in his eighties and who was mentioned more than once by Derry City fans Anderson and Coyle on their programmes, travelled from Belfast for the service.
A friend said: "Obviously there were a lot of major personalities at today's service. But Gerry would have been just as touched by the presence of all those people he wouldn't have recognised.
"I know it has meant a lot to his family, too, to realise just how loved Gerry was by the public. That's why they said that while they wanted their privacy respected, they wanted his fans to come to St Eugene's."
Outside the cathedral Fr Farren said Anderson meant a lot to the people of his native city. "He was in their living rooms every day. And when I was going from house to house, I would hear bits of his programme in one home and more of it in the next place.
"His sense of humour was Derry's sense of humour, but he also brought hope into many thousands of people's lives here at difficult times."
He added that the broadcaster's family had been clear in what type of service they wanted for the private man whom they had to "share" with his public.
"It's sometimes hard to keep that balance," he said. "But the family wanted a dignified, solemn celebration for Gerry here today. People have been very respectful of the family and they in turn deeply appreciate that."
As the cortege moved off to the City Cemetery, the talk outside St Eugene's Cathedral turned to ways of making sure that Gerry Anderson's genius would never be forgotten.
There was speculation about a memorial gathering for him and BBC Northern Ireland officials said they were working on plans for a series of special programmes about him and, importantly, featuring him and the humour that brought smiles to a province during its saddest times.