Portadown College head Simon Harper 'a true gentleman and leader'
Two Northern Ireland schools previously headed by a Co Down man who has passed away have remembered him as "a strong educational leader" and someone "who had the needs of pupils at the core of all he did".
Simon Harper (57) died suddenly on Good Friday while on a walking holiday in Scotland.
Originally from Banbridge, Mr Harper had been the principal of Portadown College for 10 years, having previously served as headmaster at Rathfriland High School.
Mr Harper began his career in 1984 as a chemistry teacher at Wallace High School in Lisburn before moving to Regent House School in Newtownards, where he later was appointed head of chemistry.
He then was appointed to the principal's post at Rathfriland High School.
Paying tribute yesterday, the Portadown College community said they had lost "a much valued colleague and dear friend".
A college spokesman said: "A hallmark of Simon's principalship was his heartfelt interest in students and staff as individuals.
"So as to ensure that each knew their value, he was always ready to offer a gentle word of encouragement."
He continued: "Regardless of background, belief or personal circumstances, students, staff and parents were received with a warm smile and a sincere willingness to work towards a positive outcome. In all such situations, Simon gave of his time generously and graciously, always setting aside his own priorities to support others.
"Simon was a strong educational leader with distinctive values which he brought to a range of challenging situations.
"A man of strong personality and principles, Simon espoused high standards in all aspects of college life and never once shied away from any criticism this might have attracted."
He said one of Mr Harper's most distinctive qualities was that he never lost "a childlike sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of the world".
He added: "He took particular delight in his garden at the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne and regularly enjoyed walking these hills with his much-loved Irish Deerhound companions, Oisin and Uther.
"Current and former students will remember with fondness his infectious sense of fun and wicked humour.
"In jovial banter with students, staff and governors, he also shared his love for sport, in particular his support for Ulster and Irish Rugby, alongside Coventry City and Crusaders football teams."
Ireland and Ulster rugby captain Rory Best - a former Portadown College pupil - offered his condolences to Mr Harper's family at the weekend.
Amanda McCullough, the current principal of Rathfriland High, said her predecessor had served the school "with tremendous passion and commitment".
She added: "During his tenure he oversaw a growth in pupil numbers and the school's popularity as a real choice for the young people from Rathfriland and the surrounding district.
"Simon was a great school leader who had the needs of the pupils at the core of all he did. His integrity was unquestionable.
"He was a true gentleman. He will be greatly missed in the field of education.
"It was a privilege to serve alongside him as vice principal and witness at first hand his skills in managing people."
Mrs McCullough added: "He was inspirational and I will miss his wise counsel as a trusted colleague and good friend."
Mr Harper is survived by his partner Catherine, brothers Paul and Stephen and wider family circle.
His funeral is expected to take place next week.