Former Ireland bowls president served his community faithfully

The sympathy of the community is with the family and friends of Errol Whitten who died suddenly, close to the town centre, on Friday, February 24.

The body of Mr Whitten (76) was found in his car on the Saturday morning. He had parked in Hanover Street, and had been planning to attend an indoor bowling match at St Mark’s Parochial Hall in Carleton Street on Friday night.

When he failed to arrive home later in the night, his worried family and friends alerted the police and Craigavon Hospital.

His body was discovered in the car around 8am by a local resident and by colleagues from Armagh Road Presbyterian Church, where Errol was an elder.

It is believed he suffered a heart attack. The street was cordoned off for much of Saturday morning.

He will be sadly missed by many groups and organisations in Portadown and far beyond, through the quiet no-fuss service which he gave unstintingly. They include his church work, Portadown Probus Club, the bowling fraternity (indoor and outdoor) throughout Ireland and Portadown Football Club.

Errol’s home is at Fernagreevagh Road, Loughgall. He is survived by his wife Olive (nee Marshall), sister Doreen Hyde, brother-in-law Tom Hyde, sisters-in-law Isobel Trouton and Barbara Conn, and their extended families. Errol and Olive were married at Armagh Road on June 22, 1971.

Errol was the son of Walker and Ella Whitten of Thomas Street, Portadown. His father died on June 19, 1977, as the result of a terrorist attack on March 1 that year. The attack was 40 years ago (to the day) of the date of Errol’s funeral at Armagh Road on Wednesday of last week. Like his son, Walker Whitten was an elder at their family church.

Errol Whitten was educated at Thomas Street Primary School and Portadown ‘Tech’, after which he spent his entire working life at Post Office telephones. He rose to the position of assistant engineering executive, covering the Portadown-Banbridge-Armagh areas. He got the best from the team who worked with him, through his courteous, quite manner.

Errol was one of a number of local telephone engineers who plumped for early retirement some 25 years ago, when technological changes were introduced. Most were in their early 50s. They included Winston Yeman, Kenny Simpson and Willie Newell.

Winston said, “We remained great friends and went out for lunch every Thursday – and that included the Thursday before Errol’s death. We are devastated by his passing.”

Errol’s all-consuming pastime was bowls. He took up the game through his parents who were members at Armagh Road. The club then played (and still plays) friendlies. Errol, though, was persuaded to join The Dobbin (St Saviour’s) Club, through his friend Billy Pierson, as they played in the local league.

Said Billy, “Errol was a great acquisition. He had various offices in our club, but his interest in bowls went far beyond The Dobbin and the indoor game.”

Errol also played for Portadown at The Pleasure Gardens where he had a Presidential year, and during the summer was on the green virtually every day. He was a regular on the Portadown A team, and was also Northern Ireland Bowlers Association competition secretary - aided by wife Olive - a post which he planned to give up next season, but fate took a hand in that decision.

In 2014, he was elected to the highest honour in Ireland as President of the Irish Bowling Association, wearing the Chain of Office with great distinction.

Errol joined Portadown Probus Club in 2007 and had been its treasurer since that year. A running joke in the club was that Errol ensured that the guest speakers received a pot of home-made jam from his sister-in-law Isobel Trouton!

He was also a keen supporter of Portadown Football Club since childhood, enjoying their successes at the turn of the Millennium, but – as he would often comment – not their recent form!

All these attributes were emphasised by Rev Christina Bradley, who conducted the Service of Thanksgiving, with Armagh Road Presbyterian Church full to overflowing. She recalled that Errol was church hall convenor. He arrived every Sunday morning an hour before the service, to open the building, ensuring the heat was on.

He did the same for the midweek use of the hall, for outside bookings and just about every occasion. He was baptised in Armagh Road in April 1941, and ordained as an elder in March 1972. He played a full part in the youth organisations of the church, was keen on the Boys’ Brigade, and later found himself in the Thomas Street Old Boys Association, because he loved billiards and snooker. He was a member of the team in 1964-65 which won the Belfast and District League – team mates included Tommy Austin, Ernie Thornton, Noel Gillis, Jimmy Turner and Ronnie Gordon.

Errol will be missed most of all by his family, although wife Olive said they took comfort from the fact that the car was actually parked when her husband passed away. “Thankfully he wasn’t driving and no other lives were placed in danger,” she said.

Mourners from all the organisations Errol served were at the funeral where the church choir, with Rodney Spence at the organ, led the singing. Praise included ‘I To The Hills Will Lift Mine Eyes’ (Psalm 121) and ‘My Times Are In Thy Hand’. The choir sang the anthem ‘Abide With Me’. The cortege was led by piper Alan Paynter of Killeen Pipe Band, who played a selection of hymns. Alan also played ‘Amazing Grace’ at the interment at Loughgall Old Cemetery.

Donations in lieu of flowers are to Armagh Road Presbyterian Church, c/o Joseph Poots and Son, Funeral Directors, 42 Bridge Street, Portadown BT63 5AE.