Eric Dale OBE, known to many as the man behind Daleway Motoring School, and stalwart of various Edenderry community groups, has died, aged 77.
Born in Edenderry to Jack and Elsie Dale, Eric lived all his life in the area, although his commercial and public works took him far and wide, with friends to be found in all corners of the world. He was educated in Edenderry Primary School and Portadown Technical College.
And under the watchful eye of his mother, he developed a talent for commerce and serving customers in her Bridge Street grocery shop. The family was also involved in the taxi and guest house trade.
After a time as a cub reporter for the then ‘Portadown News’, Eric established Daleway Motoring School at Bridge Street with his father in 1959. The school was one of the first in the UK, and quickly flourished, with instructors serving towns across Northern Ireland.
Eric played a pivotal role in establishing the driving instruction standards for safety and competence. He was responsible for training many of the area’s driving instructors, and after retirement, remained active in the profession, as mentor to his son Andrew who took over the business in 2009.
The year 1959 also saw Eric take another significant decision. He decided to become a part-time soldier. In February of that year he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the 5th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and developed into a respected officer, specialising in anti-tank defence.
On reorganisation in 1968, he transferred to the North Irish Militia, later known the 4th Battalion Royal Irish Rangers and then to the newly raised 5th Battalion Royal Irish Rangers. During this time he steadily rose through the officer ranks until in 1976, and as Colonel Dale he was appointed Commanding Officer of 5 Royal Irish. For his efforts, Eric was awarded the OBE and the Territorial Decoration (TD).
After a successful period as a TA Commanding Officer he was appointed, in 1980, as Commandant of Armagh and Down Army Cadet Force. Once again, Eric applied himself to the ACF with the same passion, vision and creativity that marked his business and TA interests. He was widely credited with transforming and remodelling the ACF into one of the best youth organisations in the UK.
After retirement from full-time driver training in 2005, Eric took an active role in community pursuits. He was Chairman of the Edenderry Cultural and Historical Society, tenacious fundraiser for the Edenderry Arch Committee, as well as a member of the local branch of the Ulster Unionist Party.
At the same time, keeping his military connections alive he was in touch regularly with Old Comrades.
With a large part of his extended family hailing from the Richhill-Kilmore area, Eric was also a member of Ballyleny Orange Lodge. There he enjoyed spending time with his many friends.
In 1972 that Eric met the love of his life, Serena Maxwell, and they married in Armagh Presbyterian Church in September 1973. Serena proved a wise and supportive partner for Eric, and mother of Richard and Andrew. The two worked tirelessly to provide a happy and comfortable home, build a thriving business.
Since the mid-80s, Eric battled cardio-vascular disease, and suffered a succession of nine heart attacks. Such was his character, that not once did he let these events hold him back from his family, business and social interests. In fact he fundraised tirelessly for heart-related charities, and supported friends and colleagues who had suffered similar ill-health. Eric was a true demonstration of the principle of personal responsibility, initiative and goodwill to all.
Eric is survived by wife Serena, sons Richard and Andrew, daughters-in-law, Suzanne and Emma, and grandchildren, Ben, Sarah-Jayne, and Thomas, brother John and sister Evelyn.
The funeral service at Seagoe Parish Church was a ‘house full’ event, and friends and colleagues all agreed on one thing - Eric Dale was a true gentleman who put others before himself. Interment was in the adjoining Churchyard.