Mayor leads the tributes as newspaper veteran Jim Flanagan sends final edition to print
A special ceremony was held by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council yesterday to mark the retirement of Ballymena Guardian editor Jim Flanagan.
The former Sunday Life editor and Belfast Telegraph deputy editor is stepping down after eight years at the helm of the weekly newspaper.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Paul Reid held a reception in his parlour to mark Mr Flanagan's contribution to the Ballymena community.
Guests included members of the journalist's family, current and former colleagues, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, former mayors of Mid and East Antrim and Ballymena and several serving councillors in the borough.
Mr Flanagan said that the reception had come out of the blue.
He said: "I will remember it for the rest of my life.
"The hospitality that was afforded me and my family was tremendous."
He added: "The job has taken me all over the world, but now I want to move on to the next stage of my life."
Mr Flanagan said that one of the highlights of his career was breaking the story of the retirement of the late Lord Bannside.
He said he was delighted to be presented with a blackthorn stick which had belonged to the DUP founder and leader by his son, Ian Paisley jnr.
Another poignant memory was covering the Enniskillen bombing.
"I was in Enniskillen the day the bomb went off. It was a crime against humanity," he said.
"The memory of that will stay with me for the rest of my life, but there were some real tales of heroism among the gloom."
Mr Flanagan said that he had enjoyed "every minute" of his career in journalism.
Paying tribute to him, Mr Reid said: "Jim Flanagan is rightly regarded as one of Northern Ireland's finest journalists and newspaper editors.
"It was a huge coup for his employers to secure the services of such a talented, diligent and capable newspaper man as Jim.
"The Ballymena Guardian is renowned for the quality of its local journalism and Jim has not only safeguarded that reputation, but successfully built on it.
"A strong local newspaper is one at the beating heart of a community, with a finger firmly on the pulse of local issues and matters that impact its residents.
"Its role and that of its editor and journalists is to inform, educate, enlighten and entertain its readership."
He said under Jim's editorship, the Guardian had "consistently punched well above its weight, breaking a string of exclusive stories which subsequently set the news agenda at a regional and even national level".
He said: "Jim is not retiring, simply changing direction.
"I'm glad to hear he intends to keep his hand in and we will no doubt come across him on our televisions and in our newspapers in the months and years ahead."
Mr Flanagan's successor is Ballymena man Des Blackadder.