Belfast Telegraph

Leading Ulster photographer John Harrison dies - book of condolences

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One of Northern Ireland's leading Press and PR photographers John Harrison has died suddenly at his home.

Just hours earlier he returned from the United States where he had covered a major Northern Ireland economic conference in Washington. The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was on the same flight.

He became ill at his home in Lisburn, Co Antrim last night after attending a PR awards ceremony in Belfast, where he presented one of the prizes.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had hosted the Washington conference, which was also attended by the Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson.

Harrison, 50, a father of three, who ran his own Press and PR photographic agency, was on first name terms with virtually every politician and member of public life in Northern Ireland.

The Rev Ian Paisley, whom he called The Doc, and the actor Liam Neeson, also from his hometown of Ballymena, Co Antrim, were among his friends.

He started his career at the Ballymena Guardian, whose former editor Maurice O'Neill, another close friend, died just a few weeks ago.

Harrison went on to become a multi-award winning photographer who staged a number of major exhibitions including one featuring a series of photographs of well known Northern Ireland personalities whom he pictured with their mothers. Mr McGuinness and his mother Peggy were among his subjects.

He was awarded the MBE in 2008 for his services to photography.

He is survived by his wife Mandy and three children, Peter, Thomas, and a daughter Catherine.

Politicians on all sides at Stormont said they were shocked and saddened by the death.

Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey, the former Ulster Unionist Party leader, said: "He was an amazing photographer and was well known in political, cultural and sporting circles.

"He put people at their ease and was equally at home with royalty and children.

"He had a talent which he used to help educate as well.

"He travelled the world with his work and was a marvellous ambassador for Northern Ireland.

"His enthusiasm, his zest for life and his genuine likeability will be very sorely missed."

Mr Robinson, who had lunch with the photographer when they were in Washington said almost every seminal and important moment in Ulster's history over the last 20 years had been documented by John Harrison.

He added: "From royal visits to significant political developments to international events, John was always on hand to capture unfolding events. John had a wonderful way with people and was always able to get the best out of those he was taking photos of."

Mr McGuinness said: "He was a one-off in every way, a consummate professional, a wonderful, warm and unbelievably gifted man. Over many years he recorded the most iconic moments in our recent history. He was not just a witness to these events however, but a friend and companion who travelled with us along the road.

"Everyone who knew him was touched by the warmth of his personality, the enthusiasm with which he approached everything that he did and above all the friendship that he bestowed on us all. He treated everyone with the same respect, humour and courtesy regardless of their rank or position."

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said John Harrison had a great talent and was a true professional.

He said: "His warmth and engaging personality was the key to his immense success over the years. His passing leaves a huge loss to public life in Northern Ireland."

Obituary: John Harrison MBE

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