An association with the Boys’ Brigade stretching back over 80 years was recalled as colleagues gathered in tribute to Jonathan Simms MBE.
Dr Michael Barry, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, led a service of thanksgiving at Joymount Presbyterian Church for the life of Mr Simms, who died on December 17, 2014, aged 96.
The Moderator spoke with warmth and affection about Mr Simms, who was a key figure in the development locally of the YMCA, Boys’ Brigade and Third Carrickfergus Band. The huge contribution he made to the borough and wider community was further illustrated in a tribute, on behalf of the Simms family, delivered by former mayor, Tom Creighton MBE.
Born on November 28 1918, the eighth son of James and Margaret Simms, Jonathan commenced his education at the old Woodburn School before transferring to Model School. The Simms family was in the milk retail business and before and after school Johnny (as he was more fondly known) was found delivering milk in pint cans.
In 1930, whilst living in Irish Quarter West, he joined 1st Carrickfergus BB Company, which was connected to the Methodist Church, beginning a lifelong connection with the youth organisation.
Mr Creighton continued: “He first became an officer under then captain Mr F V Simpson. I can recall my own membership along with other boys under the diligent leadership of Johnny and others
“As a boy he enjoyed all the activities of the company and he was a member of the football team which won the Belfast Battalion Cup in 1933.”
Reflecting on Mr Simms’s many years of dedicated service to the church, including as Sunday School teacher, Christian Endeavourer and Young People’s Christian League secretary, Mr Creighton added: “In 1955 he was elected to the Kirk Session of the First Carrickfergus Presbyterian Church and has ordained an elder in that congregation.
“Johnny had a very active association with the YMCA over a period of approximately 40 years serving as its chairman for a considerable time after which he was appointed honorary President.
“He was in business in Carrickfergus for a good number of years under the well known titles of Mace Fine Foods and Victoria supermarket. He was in partnership with the late Alex McBride, whom he regarded as another ‘brother’.”
However, despite all these commitments, his first love was the BB and he was captain of 3rd Carrickfergus Company for 22 years and was instrumental in forming the Boys Brigade Band.
“It was led by the late D J McCartney and for many years Johnny was honoured to be its President,” Mr Creighton stated.
“Johnny also served as President of the East Antrim Battalion for a significant number of years and he did so with much distinction.”
In 1989, Mr Simms was awarded the MBE in recognition of his services to youth work.
“A particularly humble and modest man by nature, he took no credit for the award, although he was appreciative that he should have been nominated for such an accolade.” Education was another passion, and he served as a governor of Carrickfergus Central and Carrickfergus High School (now College).
In his concluding remarks, Mr Creighton stressed: “Johnny was a man who had time for everyone - this is a rare quality in today’s fast pace society.”
A guard of honour was formed by over 100 Boys’ Brigade old boys outside the church after the service, Interment took place at Victoria Cemetery. Pre-deceased by his nine brothers, Mr Simms, is survived by his sister Rita and wider family circle.