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Obituary: Des Simon, leading light in Ulster and Irish men's hockey for many years

 

By Alf McCreary

Des Simon, who has died aged 101, was a leading figure in Ulster and Irish men's hockey, an international umpire and a former president of the Irish Hockey Union.

He was born on September 20, 1916 in Cliftonville, north Belfast, and educated at Belfast Royal Academy, where he was vice-captain of the First XI cricket team and a good all-rounder.

After leaving school in 1934 he joined Bachelors Foods in Sheffield as a sales representative and lived in England and Wales before returning home to assist his father, who was the local manager.

Des later became a successful sales manager and worked for 43 years with the company until his retirement in 1977.

Des met his future wife May Woolfenden in Manchester and they married on April 12, 1941.

They honeymooned in Southport but on their arrival had to seek alternative accommodation because the Army had commandeered their hotel.

Back in Belfast Des was met by a friend at the Docks who told him of the deaths of his parents and his brother Geoffrey, a superbly gifted violinist, who died when their home in Sunningdale Park was bombed during the 1941 Blitz.

Des and May set up home on the Shore Road and both took part in the war effort - Des was a corporal with the Home Guard and May was a member of the Women's Voluntary Service.

He was a prolific sportsman and a long-standing member of Cliftonville, where he played cricket and hockey. He later took up hockey umpiring and was awarded his Federation of International Hockey Badge in 1965.

He made an immense contribution to the game as an administrator and was honorary secretary and later president of Cliftonville Hockey Club and chairman of the joint cricket and hockey club.

In 1947 he was elected to hockey's Ulster Branch Council and was honorary secretary for 19 years. He became president in 1965, and was also president of the Ulster Umpires' Association. For many years he was a hockey selector for Ulster and Ireland. Des also made his mark in Irish hockey administration, and was president of the Irish Hockey Union from 1974-75.

Fittingly, that was the season when Cliftonville won the Irish Senior Cup for only the second time in their history. Uniquely, in the other year that Cliftonville won the cup, the Irish president, Andrew Rose, was also a member of the club. His son Dixon Rose, a leading hockey figure, paid tribute to Des on his retirement from the game.

"Des will always be remembered with warmth and affection by all those with whom his hockey activities brought him into contact, and one can only marvel at his appetite for hockey and the great contribution he made to the game," he said.

Des had a long and active retirement, and travelled widely.

His son Geoffrey said: "At 96 he went on a four-day coach holiday to Killarney. Back home he confirmed that the hotel and accommodation were excellent, but he tired of helping the old folk on and off the bus!"

Des was a popular member of Whitehouse Presbyterian Church, where a thanksgiving service for his life will be held next Wednesday at 10am.

May passed away in 2002 and he is survived by Geoffrey and daughter Shirley. Alf McCreary

Belfast Telegraph

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