Man with a lifelong commitment to Orange Order and unionism

The late John Black.
The late John Black.

John Saville Black, known as Johnny, passed away on September 1 at the age of 66 years.

His life spanned a wide range of interests and activities including a distinguished career in civil engineering; a love of farming; a lifelong commitment to the Orange Order and unionism; and an active part in what he saw as the struggle for democratic rights and freedoms and against terrorism.

He was born on July 2, 1949, in Lurgan to parents Alastair and Iris Black. He had one elder brother Philip, a twin brother Douglas, and a younger sister Alison. He attended Carrick School (where his father was headmaster), Lurgan College and Queen’s University Belfast, graduating with an honours degree in Civil Engineering in 1970.

He married Grace McCormack in 1988, and they had two children, Alexandra and Robert. While they later separated, Johnny took a great delight in his family and was overjoyed by the news in July of this year that Alexandra was expecting his first grandchild.

Johnny commenced his career working for Thomas Lowe and Sons (Carryduff) Ltd where he was a site engineer on projects such as the construction of trunk sewers for Craigavon and the Dromore By-Pass. He then moved to the multi-disciplinary Belfast based practice of WDR & RT Taggart, where he rose to become a Senior Associate.

One of the many projects he was responsible for was the Killyhevlin Water Treatment Works in Co Fermanagh and Johnny was immensely proud when it was nominated for a Concrete Society award.

He finished his career as a Senior Consultant with the multi-national Jacobs International where he was responsible for projects throughout the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic and further afield. Johnny never shirked his responsibilities to his chosen profession and he served as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Branch of the Institution of Water & Environmental Management. The attendance of the civil engineering fraternity at his funeral was testament to the esteem in which he was held and the tributes on his death have come from as far as Australia.

He and his brother Douglas farmed the family farm at Lisbane, Tandragee, which has been in the family’s possession since 1837. Much of Johnny’s spare time was spent on the farm where he found enormous contentment and satisfaction working the land and tending livestock. His love of Lisbane and his literary talent were expressed in stories in which he documented the history of Lisbane and the Black family.

Following in the family tradition, Johnny joined the Junior Orange Order at the age of 9, where he and his brother became members and then instructors in the Star of Lurgan Junior LOL 149 Accordion Band. He was initiated into the Senior Order in 1967 becoming a member of Loyal Sons of Ulster LOL 44, based in Brownlow House. He played a leading role in the life of the lodge, having been Worshipful Master, Secretary and then Treasurer from 1984 to his death.

He was also a District Officer in Lurgan District. He walked in all the Co Armagh Twelfth demonstrations from the early sixties until 2015, which he missed through illness but instead still took the opportunity to watch the Belfast demonstration for the first time. The friendship of his Brethren meant a lot to Johnny.

Johnny also had a great interest in the Royal Arch Purple Order, having served as District Registrar from 1971 to his death. Moreover, he was a member of the Black Institution having been a member of Star of Joseph RBP 207, and was proud to have served as Worshipful Master.

Johnny shared a sense of outrage with most unionists who saw the Anglo-Irish and subsequent agreements as a betrayal of both unionism and democracy, and an appeasement of terrorism. He was Press Officer of the Ulster Clubs. He took part in and led many peaceful demonstrations and protests against this betrayal, and was prepared to take a stand even when on occasion it put his own livelihood at risk.

In the later stages of his life, Johnny found much happiness and companionship with his partner Jane Begley. They shared a love of travel and enjoyed many holidays both in the UK and abroad.

Johnny was warm-hearted, intelligent and humorous. Despite his own strong views he was tolerant of the views of others and always happy to discuss political and other matters with those of a different viewpoint.

He was respected by those who worked for him, who felt able to bring any problems or difficulties to him for help and advice. Even in his last illness he continued to have a positive approach to life and retained his good humour and cheerfulness to the end.

John Black was laid to rest at Knocknamuckley on September 3 following a Service in Knocknamuckley Parish Church. He is survived by his partner Jane, by Grace and children Alexandra and Robert, and by his brothers Philip and Douglas, and sister Alison.