For a man who couldn’t swim, Jackie McBride made quite a name for himself at Lurgan Pool.
Retiring after 39 years at the leisure complex known more recently as Waves, Jackie admitted when he first started working at the pool he couldn’t swim.
The 65-year-old said: “I started in the pool as a doorman and cleaner. I just filled the coke and crisp machines. I couldn’t swim.
“I progressed to the basket room where my job was to look after people’s belongings while they were in the pool.
“When you came in to the pool you got a numbered ticket and a coloured armband. They gave me the ticket along with their stuff and it was kept in the basket until they got out of the pool. Back then you paid for an hour session. When your time was up they’d call for all the red, blue or green armbands to come out. Then they’d come to me and tell me their number and I’d give their things back to them.”
The former King’s Park and Lurgan Junior High School pupil continued: “When I was working in the basket room they took me into the pool and taught me to swim. When I was at school the pool hadn’t opened so there was no such thing as swimming lessons. The first time I went to the pool was with the Boys’ Brigade when it had just opened.
“I progressed on to leisure attendant and then when Barbara Uprichard became manager I took up the position of swimming teacher.
“I worked myself up to duty manager for the wet section which looked after everything on the pool side of things.
“Eventually I became a fully qualified training assessor. I also coached in the swimming club for a number of years.”
Jackie and Margaret will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary next year.
Together they have two children - Jacqueline (35) and Keith (28) - and two grandchildren - Harry (nearly 4) and Maisie (12 weeks).
Of his plans for retirement he said: “I want to stay active.
“I had a hip replacement recently. I feel good and love to be out walking.
“I’ve got two grandchildren now and I’ve got the dogs as well so I’m up early every morning to take them for a walk.
“It’s not quite as early as I would have been up some mornings when I was working at the pool.
“There’s mornings I would be up at five to open the pool for six for the early swimmers. Normally I’d have been up at six to be in for seven.”
He continued: “There’s been a lot of changes over the years. The diving boards have gone. The wave machine has come and gone and the floating obstacles have come and gone. Health and safety has been a big factor.
“I’m a traditionalist in that swimming pools should be for swimming in.
“When I was a swimming teacher I loved seeing kids who couldn’t swim progress and get their certificates and medals. The look on their faces was priceless.”
He said: “In terms of fitness there’s been a lot of fads but the spinning classes have remained a constant.”
Last Saturday night Jackie was the victim of a surprise party. He explained: “I was caught out on Saturday night. I was invited out for a meal in the Tannery with my wife. I thought it was just for a family meal, but when I got there, 20 colleagues were sitting around the table. I would have liked to see my face when I walked in and saw them all sitting there.”
He added: “I couldn’t have worked with a better bunch of staff. I loved the comradeship.
“I’ve been doing rotas for 30 or 40 years so they presented me with a framed rota on my retirement. They also got me Curry’s vouchers which I plan to spend on a new iPad to play with on winter nights.
“I’ll not be going away from the pool. Now that I’m 65 I be taking full advantage of my free swims and I’ll have my bus pass to get a free ride to and from the pool as well.”