Rory Best ‘saddened’ by death of Portadown College headmaster Simon Harper
Ireland and Ulster rugby captain Rory Best has said he is "incredibly saddened" by the death of the principal of his former school.
Mr Best led tributes to Simon Harper, the principal of Portadown College, who died suddenly on Good Friday while on a walking holiday in Scotland.
Originally from Banbridge, Mr Harper had been in his current post for 10 years.
He previously served as headmaster at Rathfriland High School.
Mr Harper was a chemistry teacher by background and had formerly been head of department at Regent House Grammar School in Newtownards.
He is survived by his partner Catherine, brothers Paul and Stephen and wider family circle.
He was predeceased in recent years by his parents Craigie and Pearl.
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Tweeting yesterday, Best, who last week announced he is to officially retire from professional rugby, said: "Incredibly saddened to hear of the sudden loss of Mr Simon Harper, principal of my former school.
"Thoughts are with his family and friends."
Paying tribute, Peter Aiken, chairman of Portadown College's board of governors, said Mr Harper would be greatly missed.
He said: "As a professional leader and teacher there are two words which were ever to the front of his life and work. They were 'student centred'.
"Right from the time he entered the interview room when the college were seeking to appoint a principal in December 2009 until the last board of governors on March 28, 2019, he breathed, talked and delivered for young people.
"He was a committed professional and educationalist who heartily embraced his students and staff.
"Simon loved travelling the world and being outdoors so it is justly fitting his last hours were with his passion."
Schools in the surrounding areas have been offering their condolences to the family of Mr Harper.
A spokesman for sister school Lurgan College said their students, staff and parents were "deeply shocked and saddened" to learn of Mr Harper's sudden death.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Catherine and the Harper family circle at this time of great sadness," the school added.
Rathfriland High School expressed "great sadness" at the news of his passing while Lismore Comprehensive School in Craigavon said its sincere condolences and sympathies are extended to their friends in Portadown College on the loss of Mr Harper.
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said she was "absolutely devastated" to hear the tragic news.
"Simon was a gentleman who gave so much to education locally," she said.
"A vibrant principal who was an educator, an encourager and a friend to all the pupils.
"What an immense loss to Portadown College and our entire community."
Mr Harper's funeral details have yet to be announced.