I MET the late Dr. Roy McNeice only once, to my certain knowledge, but in that meeting there was effortlessly made so lasting an impression that I personally felt his loss more keenly than might otherwise have been the case.
When last I was moved to reflect upon so unexpected a loss in Dromore, it was in respect of a woman, the late Mrs. Helen McFadden, with whom I had been acquainted for many years. Dr. McNeice, I knew not long and of him I knew but very little.
I would not, therefore, presume to suggest that Dr. McNeice and I instantly became fast friends when he welcomed me into his home, where I was to conduct an interview prompted by his recent retirement, but there was a connection, born of some common interest and experience,and it was my hope at the time that our first meeting would not, as sadly proved to be the case, be our last.
Roy (as I will refer to him hereafter, it having been his insistence throughout our recent meeting) extended to me an invitation, an invitation I undertook to accept just as soon as the domestic upheaval brought about by the arrival of a new baby had settled onto an even keel.
I can’t say if Roy perhaps believed I was politely giving an undertaking I had no intention of honouring and I will never now be able to take him up on his kind offer to a virtual stranger, as I always, truly meant to do; it would have been my pleasure and my privilege.
Roy was one among many I texted upon the birth of my new son; his response - ‘Heartiest congratulations Paul. He looks lovely. Glad that mum and baby are doing well. Roy.’
I was to hear from him only once more, when he got in touch to enquire about inserting an acknowledgement in The Leader; I wish, as so many of us do in like circumstances, that I had taken the opportunity for a longer chat, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, so the saying goes.
Roy, as I made clear in my relatively recent article, was a man who liked to chat, who held simple conversation to be a valuable tool in his medical kit.
During the course of an interview that was to prove longer than the average such encounter (we both kept getting seriously side-tracked, not least on the subject of aircraft, model and otherwise) Roy, without resort to expansive gestures, without even enthusiastically raising his voice, managed to perfectly convey, in softly spoken sentences, the breadth and depth of his love for flying, his passion for people, his devotion to frontline medicine, his abiding affection for his patients and his contentment with his adoptive home of Dromore.
That this last feeling was mutual was abundantly clear in the community’s response to news of his retirement and later his passing, a response typified by the examples, elsewhere on this page, of the online tributes paid to him.
As a doctor, as a colleague, as a churchgoer, as a friend, as a man - here was one who inspired confidence, trust and genuine affection; in my, albeit limited, experience, a truly modest and selfless man, as the truly gifted often are.
I hope that those who really knew Dr. Roy McNeice will forgive my presumption in supposing that I might in time have earned a place among them and to those who knew and loved him best, his family, his friends, his former colleagues, I offer my own heartfelt sympathy.