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Former Belfast Telegraph newsman Jim Flanagan a colussus in stature, life and journalism

Tributes paid to family man after his death at 61

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Jim Flanagan

Jim Flanagan

Jim Flanagan

Top newsman Jim Flanagan, who has passed away, aged just 61 after a sudden illness, was a colossus in stature, in life and in his vocation of print journalism, in which he excelled.

He was a valued colleague, editor and friend to many hundreds of journalists here in a career spanning over 40 years, but, for all that, he was, above all, the epitome of a decent, family man.

Jim, who grew up in, and was shaped by, troubled north Belfast, graduated from weekly newspapers to the newsdesk of the Belfast Telegraph and quickly established his reputation as a front line reporter on the scene of almost daily atrocities in the 80s and 90s.

As peace descended, his management skills were recognised as he became deputy editor of the Telegraph and then Editor of Sunday Life, retiring early for health reasons in 2009 only to be persuaded to return to his stock in trade as Editor of the Ballymena Guardian, where he also made his mark on local politics and issues.

It was Jim who broke the story of local MP Ian Paisley’s retirement from Parliament in 2010.

He took another step back, amid the pandemic two years ago, to undergo successful major heart surgery and had recovered sufficiently to become a regular at Whitehead Golf Club, playing the course only a few days before falling suddenly ill at the weekend.

As a hardened Troubles news reporter, Jim never failed to lose sight of the human cost of the carnage.

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He recently contributed a searing personal, on the spot account of the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre of 1987 to the conflict archive publication, Reporting The Troubles 2.

But for all his exposure to tragedy and the challenges of working daily in a fiercely competitive news environment, Jim rose to the top without ever sacrificing his high standards and values. He was a font of knowledge, advice and encouragement to young journalists fortunate to come under his charge and very often quietly helped out more seasoned colleagues faced with hardship or other personal difficulties outside of the office.

He never judged nor asked questions. He was always there to lend an ear, and more.

In four decades working with him and under him, we never exchanged a cross word. Quite the opposite, for Jim was equally legendary at letting his hair down across the road in the pub when an edition had been put to bed.

Colleagues and contemporaries enjoyed his company but, above all, he was a devoted family man, survived by wife Collette, his rock, whom he met while working together on the old Antrim series weekly papers, son James, a chemist and teacher and dentist daughter Suzanne who is married to Ulster, Ireland and Lions rugby star, Iain Henderson.

Jim was also a nephew of former RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan.

Welcoming Iain into the family was a perfect fit for a proud father in law immersed in sport as an avid follower of Ulster and Ireland, a regular on the terraces at his beloved Crusaders and supporter of Everton in the Premier League.

His claim to fame was appearing for underdogs Annadale in their 17-9 defeat by hot favourites Bangor Grammar in the 1978 Schools Cup rugby final in a side coached by another newspaper stalwart, Big Jim McDowell.

As I struggled yesterday to absorb and process the news of his unexpected and untimely passing, I was drawn back to a passage he penned in that book Reporting The Troubles 2 which now serves as a fitting epitaph.

Jim wrote: “I would like to end on a positive note. I have undertaken my own personal journey and now live with a heart implant, thanks to the skills of doctors at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upn Tyne - a second chance that was so cruelly denied to many of my fellow citizens in our beautiful country.

“I’m a grandfather now and I can only see better days ahead for my children and grandchildren. We owe it to their generation to never repeat the mistakes of the past.”

God rest a decent Big Man.


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