ROMORE has laid to rest one of its best known and most highly respected sons, shocked mourners gathering to bid farewell to Bertie Poots during one of the largest funerals the town has ever seen.

For decades a pillar of strength to countless local families in their hour of loss, a reassuringly dignified and comforting presence, the Dromore funeral director died suddenly on November 2 while holidaying with his wife Lorna at her brother's home in England. He was 58 years old.

News of Mr. Poots' death sent shockwaves rippling through his home town and beyond as a community, so many of whom had depended upon his quiet compassion and uncompromising professionalism, struggled to come to terms with his unexpected loss little more than a year after the death of his mother, Mrs. Anne 'Annie' Poots MBE, a tireless businesswoman, charity worker and another well-known community stalwart.

Nowhere was the shock and devastation of Bertie's death felt more keenly than among his family - wife, Lorna; son, Simon; daughters, Melanie and Roslyn; daughter-in-law, Susan; sisters, Angela and Helen; brother, Brian and wider family circle.

A grieving Mrs. Poots described the circumstances of her husband's death as "horrendous" but paid tribute to her brother and his wife for their efforts to revive their much-loved relative; they did all that could be done, she said, but sadly to no avail.

Mrs. Poots spoke of her husband as someone well-known and respected over a wide area, someone people depended upon in very difficult circumstances.

Born on February 15, 1950, to Mr. and Mrs. William and Anne Poots, Robert Leslie 'Bertie' Poots was aged 25 when, in 1975, following the death of his father, he joined the family business, R. J. Poots and Co., Funeral Directors, a well-known and long-established business dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

Bertie was well known for devoting much of his time to the business, but his spare-time pursuits, among his wide circle of friends, included a keen interest in Dromore Rugby Club, the Masonic Lodge and a passion for golf that, once ignited, was to eclipse his earlier interest in horses.

Mr. Poots joined Malone Golf Club in 1982 and was a member of its Moonlighters' Society. His accomplishments on the golf course included past outings in all-Ireland finals at Westport and Killarney as a member of the Malone club's Jimmy Bruen team. The club's Mr. Norman Ferguson was among those to pay tribute to Mr. Poots at his funeral.

Another tribute came this week from local journalist and Poots family friend Harry McCandless, who described Bertie as a very popular and very quiet person, "one of nature's gentlemen", who oversaw the long established family business in line with the admirable principles - strictly based on honesty and integrity - set by his forebears.

"Bertie was noted for his sympathetic and caring attitude towards the bereaved," said Mr. McCandless, "and would have gone well beyond the care of duty in sensitively helping families cope with the loss of their loved ones.

"His quiet, but jovial and inoffensive nature made him one of Dromore's most popular and well-liked citizens. To say that Bertie will be missed is an understatement.

"The swiftness of his passing in the prime of life has left a void in the community which will be very hard to fill."

Mr. Poots' funeral service was held in Banbridge Road Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Gary Trueman officiating and Mrs. E. McDonald presiding at the organ. The hymns 'The Lord's my Shepherd', 'How Great Thou Art' and 'My times are in Thy hand' were sung.

Mr. Poots' son Simon read a poem entitled 'Passing Thoughts'. The same poem was read at the funeral in 1946 of Mr. Poots' uncle Bertie, for whom he was named, and again in 1975 at the funeral of his father.

Donations in lieu of flowers are to go to the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association and Action Cancer.