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Tributes to a unique Northern Ireland journalistic talent

Gail Walker, Editor of the Belfast Telegraph, says: "If there ever was a man to puncture pomposity and self-regard with the gentlest of ribbing, the softest of nudges, the warmest of reflections on human nature, it was Billy Simpson, one of the old stagers of the Telegraph who, for so many decades, gave the paper its distinctive character.

"'The best any leader can expect,' he once wrote, 'is to be tolerated for a while and then discarded to life on the lecture circuit ... with a highly developed sense of irony'.

"No one had a better developed sense of irony than Billy and he deployed it mercilessly across the decades in memorable and engaging columns, filled with wit, good sense, and what we used to call 'aul decency' and now call simple human kindness and common sense. His wry take on the planet will be greatly missed; what he represented as a person will be missed even more sorely by his family and friends. There is one less humane eye scrutinising us in our Ulster absurdity now. Farewell, Mr Simpson."

Religion correspondent Alf McCreary says: "I first met Billy Simpson when he and I were young reporters on the beat. I was impressed by his nose for a story and by his impeccable shorthand.

"Shortly afterwards when the Troubles erupted, Billy was one of the voices of sanity in a mad world. His well-crafted weekly humorous column helped us to laugh at ourselves and to bring light into the prevailing darkness.

"On one occasion I was in trouble of my own at Queen's University as its information director, wrestling with the almost impossible task of defending the university's controversial decision to drop the National Anthem at graduation ceremonies.

"Billy wrote a beautiful satirical column about me with the headline 'Elf and the Anthem'. He was a lovely man."

Belfast Telegraph