John McWhirter    1913    2005

       “A Man Worth Knowing”

On Thursday 3rd November over 100 members of the Ulster Group of the AGS along with members of the Dublin Group and family and friends gathered for a luncheon in the Belmont Hotel, Banbridge, to celebrate the life of our past President, Mr. John McWhirter who died on the 30th September 2005.

 John was born in Cullybackey, County Antrim, in 1913, went on to teach part-time in 1935, and completed an engineering degree at the Imperial College, London in 1942. He was appointed principal of Banbridge Technical College in 1945 where he remained until early retirement in 1963 due to his hearing problems.

He had many outside interests, starting with watercolour painting in Cullybackey; becoming a trained singer with a great love of classical music, and in Banbridge joining the  highly esteemed McCready Singers. He was also a past president of the Banbridge Musical Society and one sadness in his life was his increasing deafness when he could no longer hear and enjoy much loved music.

In 1949 he was co-founder of the Banbridge Camera Club and, as slides of his alpine plants show, was a skilled photographer.

For nearly 30 years he was involved with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and in the 60’s co-founded the Loughbrickland Sailing Club where they began building their own boats.

His wife Mary died in 1968 and they had no family.

But the real love of John’s life was the Alpine Garden Society, indeed as his nephew said, the AGS was his family.   He was a passionate gardener, belonging not only to the AGS but also both the Scottish and North American Rock Garden Clubs, and the Irish Garden Plant Society.

He was Hon. Secretary of the Ulster Group for 16 years until 1994 and set such a standard that succeeding secretaries like myself have found him a hard act to follow. In appreciation he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Ulster Group and also by the Dublin Group whom he also supported in many ways. Over the years he won many Certificates of Merit for his plants and in 1998 he won the Farrer Medal in Dublin with a lovely display of Fritillaria affinis. His untiring work for the society was recognised by the AGS Certificate of Honour ( please check the title of this award & the date) awarded to him by the then President, Peter Erskine.

But John will be remembered by the Ulster group not just for his garden full of wonderful plants, his plant knowledge and endless tips, but for his warm, affectionate personality and for his integrity.

 Many tributes were made to John at the luncheon which was by  invitation of the new President, Mr. Bob Gordon, Vice-Presidents and committee of the Ulster Group and was organised by our Hon. Treasurer, Mrs Margaret Glynn, helped by Bob and other members of the Group. Prior to the lunch, members and friends gathered in his garden for one last time, where his plants were sold with a view to raising funds, hopefully to set up a travel award scheme.

In a moving tribute paid to him by the President, Bob recounted his love of poetry especially that of A.E.Houseman, his wonderful memory and humour - always having an  appropriate verse at the right time.

John left his body to science, many of his books, plants, slides etc to the Ulster Group and asked for no memorial service. But I think he would have appreciated, in the words of one member, “John’s Day” and our hopes to have an award in his memory.

He will not be forgotten by the Ulster group for in so many ways John was indeed “a man worth knowing”.