One of Tandragee’s best-known residents, Mr William Fulton (Bill) Gillespie, has died in the Channel Island of Jersey while on a family holiday, with his wife Winifred (Winnie) and elder son Michael.
They were staying in their favourite resort at St Brelade’s Bay on the south coast of Jersey when he was taken ill and transferred to the island’s main hospital at St Helier. He passed away the next day, Friday June 30.
Bill was 85 and packed wonderful service into those years – ranging from education to the Territorial Army, where he was a Colonel, steam railway preservation to supporting the arts. He was also a Justice of the Peace, chairman of the Southern Education and Library Board, and of the Southern Health and Social Services Board, and chairman of the NI Fire and Rescue Service.
He was Deputy Lieutenant of County Armagh, High Sheriff of County Armagh, and served on the boards of governors of schools at various levels, including Tandragee Primary, Portadown and Lurgan College of Further Education and Banbridge Academy. His CV listed no fewer than 31 voluntary posts, although his ‘real job’ was as managing director and chairman of John Sinton’s of Tandragee. He received the OBE at Buckingham Palace in 1989 for his wide range of voluntary service.
His marriage to the former Winnie Sinton was in Ballymore Parish Church, Tandragee in August 1956, and his funeral service was in the same church on Sunday past. They had met in Newcastle, County Down, where they had both travelled from their homes on holiday, Bill from Ballynahinch and Winnie from Tandragee. Newcastle retained a special place in their hearts throughout the years, and later in life they loved to holiday in the Mourne town – especially in its famous Slieve Donard Hotel.
There are two sons, Michael and Roger (wife Tracey), and a granddaughter Abbey. He was the son of Joseph and Christina Gillespie – the fourth of a family of five, of whom sister Joan is the last survivor. Bill and Winnie celebrated their 60th (Diamond) anniversary last year and received a card from the Queen. Their home is at Ballymore Road, Tandragee.
Bill was young when his father died, and he left Down High School when he was 15, working initially in a solicitor’s office in Belfast. He studied hard, part-time, and gained various qualifications in business and law. Through Queen’s University, he attained a Master’s in Business Administration and a Certificate in Employment Law.
When he married Winnie – and moved to Tandragee – he entered the family firm of John Sinton Ltd at ground level, working his way up to chairman and MD of the building contractors and hardware store. They were responsible for constructing many buildings all over Northern Ireland - schools, Post Offices, houses, swimming pools and banks among them.
Outside keeping the firm buoyant, his interests were legion – two of them following in the footsteps of his late father. Firstly, he was President, co-founder and chairman of the Downpatrick Steam Railway – they named a locomotive ‘WF Gillespie OBE’ after him and made him Honorary President in 2015.
A tribute from the group said, “Bill had a very strong personal connection to the original railway line, the Belfast and County Down Railway, as his father drove the BCDR diesel locomotive No. 2 on the Ballynahinch branch, a locomotive he attempted to preserve in the 1970s but which was unfortunately scrapped.”
Bill was also Commanding Officer of 40 (Ulster) Signal Regiment and an officer in the North Irish Horse, his father having been a Territorials officer.
Those were two of his personal favourites among the many organisations he served, with other titles including those of Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, Fellow of the Institute of Directors and Life Patron of in the Ulster Operatic Company.
In his funeral address, Rev Canon Shane Forster, Rector of Ballymore, stressed Bill’s love for his family. “Bill and Winnie were blessed with two sons, Michael and Roger. He was a good father and husband, and always had their best interests at heart.
“With the arrival of Roger’s daughter Abbey onto the scene, Bill was a changed man. That new stage in life and new title of Grandpa, brought out his mellower side.
“He encouraged her love for ponies and bought her own pony ‘Ava’ and encouraged her to learn to ride and gain experience. He also praised her musical talents.”
Canon Forster also recalled that Bill was a faithful member at Ballymore – “One constant appointment that appeared on his calendar week after week was noted in an abbreviated form. Just three letters – BPC. Ballymore Parish Church.
“This included Wednesday’s at 10.30am and Sundays at 11am. No matter what else featured in his busy diary, Bill always made time for God.
“He made time to come to worship, to say his prayers, to receive Holy Communion.
“He did not boast about his faith, he did not force it upon others but quietly tried to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
More than 300 mourners filled Ballymore and the hymns were ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ and ‘Abide With Me’. A private family committal took place in the adjoining Churchyard.
Donations in lieu of flowers are to Cancer Research UK and Craigavon Cardiac Care, c/o Milne Funeral Services, 59 Seagoe Road, Portadown BT63 5HS.