Jim Molyneaux - still in fine voice at 90: the political veteran and his choir of ladies
His 90th birthday dawns on Friday — so naturally Lord Jim Molyneaux, once the canny leader of the Ulster Unionists, has stepped out of the political arena.
He no longer takes his seat in the Upper House at Westminster to which he was elevated after a career guiding his party through some of its toughest years.
But make no mistake, never mind his great age, the organist at St Catherine’s Parish Church in Aldergrove, Peggy Farr, will tell you His Lordship is still a voice to be listened to.
For Jim — as the women in the life of this lifelong bachelor call him — is the only man in Peggy’s choir and he still makes a pleasant tenor sound on a Sabbath morning, especially when Peggy strikes up with Dear Lord and Father of Mankind which is one of his favourite hymns.
So with the big nine-oh around the corner, the choirmistress, her ladies and St Catherine’s worshippers, along with the assistant rector, John Farr, laid on a surprise birthday tea party for the great man in the parish hall after morning Sabbath service.
“I still love to join in the hymn singing in the choir box every Sunday,” said Lord Molyneaux, where he is the longest serving member of the Select Vestry.
In fact, this man Molyneaux — who received his own special oak chair from the parish in recognition of his long political career and his service to St Catherine’s — was baptised there all those years ago.
“St Catherine’s simply |wouldn’t be the same without him,” says church warden Victor Sefton.
The church is inside the gates of the old RAF Aldergrove base which is now known as Joint Helicopter Flying Station.
“I’ve been worshipping in St Catherine’s since boyhood, every Sunday except for the war years, when I was away in the RAF. I joined the choir when I was very young,” said Lord Molyneaux.
He was saddened when Aldergrove ceased to be exclusively an RAF base.
He grew up just down the road from the camp and was fascinated by aircraft in his youth.
“In my teenage years,” he recalled, “I had an obsession with the RAF and flying.
“After school I would perch on the boundary of the camp
and watch the trainee pilots at work.
“It was inevitable that I would join up in the RAF in wartime 1941 and see service that took me right to the gates of Belsen to witness all the horrors of that concentration camp when it was being liberated.
“But I was always glad to come home on leave to sing in the choir and I intend to join the ladies in the choir box every Sunday for a long time yet.”
Inside St Catherine’s is a stained glass Window of Peace, dedicated to the men and women of the services and their families and the civilians who were based at Aldergrove |during the Troubles.
It was unveiled a few years ago by Prince Charles as a permanent tribute and a reminder of the debt owed to all the people who served at Aldergrove and contributed to peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
Lord Molyneaux will be celebrating his 90th proper with his family, including his widowed sister-in-law Agnes whose husband Billy Molyneaux, Lord Molyneaux’s brother, died at 52.
His niece Maureen Fong is coming from Tasmania for the occasion, and is also looking forward to joining in the celebrations for the Lord’s milestone birthday.