The family of the late Mayor of Carrickfergus Charlie Johnston has said a heartfelt thank-you to the community for all its support.
Mr Johnston, a Freeman of Carrickfergus, passed away in February after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 64. First Minister Peter Robinson and the Lord Lieutenant for County Antrim Joan Christie OBE joined mourners at a packed Carrickfergus Methodist Church for his funeral.
Former Town Hall colleagues and representatives from the diverse range of groups with which Mr Johnston had been associated were also in attendance. His coffin was draped with the borough flag and subsequently the banner of Woodburn LOL 787.
Reflecting on this in an interview for the TIMES, former Mayoress Patricia Johnston and Mr Johnston’s daughter Charlene said to have so many people rally round them over the past months has been “very touching”.
“We felt the time was right for a thank-you from the family. All the tributes: It makes you very proud.
“Peter Robinson not only came to the funeral but he walked in the procession. Joan Christie, the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant and Norman Walker the Deputy Lord Lieutenant attended too. Friends from Scotland who had been over to see Charlie a few weeks before came back over again from Sringburn.
“There were so many people who helped us then and are continuing to do so, it’s impossible to name them all, but their efforts are truly appreciated.”
Patricia said while there have been many difficult days since - his birthday on April 22 and their wedding anniversary on May 3 - there have been occasions which have been poignantly uplifting.
“Charlie had earnestly hoped to see out his term in office but that wasn’t to be. So, I was pleased that I was able to fulfil one of his wishes and that was to lock the door of the mayor’s parlour for the final time before Carrickfergus Borough Council came to an end in March.”
Carrick Rangers played a big part in the former first citizen’s life too. When the club won the Steel and Sons Cup on Christmas morning, chairman David Hilditch brought the trophy to him in hospital and presented him with the winning secretary’s medal.
“One of Charlie’s wishes was that the medal would be passed on to his friend David Hilditch and I am pleased to say I have now done so,” Patricia revealed.
Further important milestones as the family tries to come to terms with their loss was the first Charlie Johnston Memorial Trophy being presented at the Taylor’s Avenue’ club’s awards evening to player of the year Aaron Smyth.
The day after Mr Johnston’s funeral, Carrick Rangers played Crusaders in an Irish Cup game and the players warmed up beforehand in black shirts which bore the name Johnston and number 12 on their backs.
The family was also thankful for the opportunities that came with the honour of office.
“I grew up around the Town Hall, it was very much part of my life,” Charlene said.
“One occasion dad was invited as the mayor to an event at Westminster Abbey. Myself and my brother Samuel were the only children there. I met Princess Diana. She kept laughing at me as I was pulling at my hat. She said: ‘I take it you don’t like hats.’”
A former Mayor of Carrickfergus, Patricia recalled being accompanied by Charlie to Buckingham Palace in 2009.
“We were invited to a garden party and I remember the Duke of Edinburgh asking: ‘Do you still have that lovely castle?’”
Proud of the royal connections with Carrickfergus, Mr Johnston invited Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus to visit. Patricia recalled: “He thought it would have been nice that particular year because it was the end of the borough as it was known.”
This invitation has been renewed under the auspices of the new Mid and East Antrim Council and should it be taken up, Patricia and Charlene know it will trigger further cherished memories of the last Mayor of Carrickfergus.