COURAGEOUS, generous, pioneering, just some of the tributes paid to SDLP stalwart and publican Hugh News, who died at the weekend.
Hundreds thronged St Peter’s Church in the town for the funeral of Mr News who died on Saturday after a long illness.
A founding member of the SDLP in Lurgan, Mr News was a well known and respected politician and publican.
On Tuesday top names in politics including John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Brid Rodgers and Mark Durkan as well as current party leader Alasdair McDonnell joined family and friends to pay respects to Hugh.
Monsignor Aidan Hamill described his ‘unselfish goodness and kindness’ - ‘a man with good judgement and a good sense of humour’.
One of Hugh News’ legacies was to found the SDLP in Lurgan after starting his political career in 1964 with the political party Independent Citizens.
He was elected to the old Stormont Assembly in 1972 and to the Constitutional Convention in 1975 and again to the NI Assembly in 1982.
He also served as a councillor both on the old Lurgan Borough Council and Craigavon Borough Council.
Mr News grew up in Silverwood with his aunts and uncles as his mother died eight days after he was born and his father when he was just three.
He studied at St Colman’s College in Newry and trained as a pharmacist.
When his uncle John died he took charge of the public house in Edward Street and was regarded as a popular and respected publican until he retired in 1998.
Party colleague Joe Nelson said Mr News will be ‘remembered not only for his political courage but for his unbounded generosity to those in need’.
“In the face of adversity he stood up for his beliefs in social justice and democratic politics and was one of those politicians who worked quietly away at changing the political landscape which inevitably led to the Good Friday agreement,” said Councillor Nelson.
“The large crowd at his funeral was testament to the esteem in which Hugh was held both by the community at large and by the SDLP in particular,” said Councillor Nelson.
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd also paid tribute to Mr News.
“Though Hugh News held a different political ideology to me I always found him to be a true gentleman and a fair and resourceful political opponent. He enjoyed debate and was always willing to listen to and take on board alternative views but was equally ready and willing to put forward and argue his own political perspective,” said Mr O’Dowd.
“His contributions during difficult times on behalf of the nationalist community of Craigavon were immense. When he stood down from Council he left behind a huge void, as his death will leave a huge void for his family and friends.
“On behalf of Sinn Féin I would like to offer our sympathy to his wife Ann, his children and grandchildren, his sisters, and to his party colleagues.”
Mr News served on a number of Councils and bodies from the 1960s until the late 1980s and was also the national vice-president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Monsignor Hamill, at his Requiem Mass on Tuesday, told mourners of how News’ bar was ‘well known and popular through Hugh’s reputation of upholding high standards and was widely accepted as a good house’.
“Hugh became widely recognised as having a good listening ear with genuine concern not just for his customers, but also for anyone who approached him for help and advice,” said Monsignor Hamill.
“News’ Bar became not just a social centre for enjoyment and relaxation but a surgery for those in need or help and advice and also where political, sporting and local issues were discussed,” said Monsignor Hamill.
However, Mr News’ bar was attacked many times by paramilitaries including in 1973 when a barman and a customer were injured by a grenade thrown by a loyalist gang.
Former SDLP leader Brid Rodgers said: “Hugh stood up for democratic politics during very dangerous days when nationalist were attacked by loyalists and so-called republicans.
“Many kept their heads down and said nothing. Hugh stood up to be counted. He preached the gospel of peace when a lot of people weren’t listening.
“He paid the price because he was attacked verbally and his pub was attacked physically. His legacy is that what Hugh was doing 40 years ago, has been accepted today.”
Aside from pubs and politics, Hugh was heavily involved in education and served on the Board of Governors of St Paul’s Junior High School and for some time was its chairman.
He had a strong interest in Gaelic Football and Armagh in particular.
However primarily Mr News was a family man.
He married Anne in 1964 and the couple had three children John, Marie-Therese and Sarah.
He is also the brother of Peggy, Kathleen and the late Eddie.
Monsignor Hamill told mourners on Tuesday: “Hugh was a man who had a great love for God and energetically strove to do his will in his love for family, in his business life and in his service to the community.”