St Macartin’s Cathedral in Enniskillen yesterday was filled with some of the biggest names in Northern Ireland politics as they paid their last respects to former Stormont minister Sam Foster.
Former First Minister David Trimble attended the former UUP minister’s funeral along with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and former UUP leaders Lord Empey and Tom Elliot. Lord Maginnis, DUP Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, whose husband was a nephew of Mr Foster’s, SDLP MLAs Tommy Gallagher and Frank Britton, Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew and Viscount Brookborough also attended.
Mr Foster is survived by his wife Dorothy and children Mervyn, Helen and David.
After hearing of his death, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt had said Mr Foster had been “a huge figure in Fermanagh unionism”.
“It is a mark of Sam that he was able to gain the respect of political friend and foe alike,” he said. “He never held personal grudges and sought to find agreement rather than create strife.
“He rose to high office but never forgot his roots and always remained at heart a Fermanagh man.”
Mr Foster served as a B Special and a major in the UDR and also pursued a career as a social worker, later being awarded the CBE.
He was elected to Fermanagh District Council in 1981 and served 20 years, including a spell as chairman. In 1998 he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly and served as Environment Minister between 1999 and 2002.
Rev Rob Clements traced the UUP stalwart’s life yesterday, noting he had been born on December 7, 1931, of a long line of blacksmiths.
However, Mr Foster went on to work in the Fermanagh Times for 20 years, later taking on a position as an Educational Welfare officer working particularly with truancy.
He went on to become Senior Welfare Office before returning to education as a mature student to study social work, working in Fermanagh on a range of social issues and in Liverpool with children who had been abused.
Rev Clements said he believed that Mr Foster’s desire to help those in need “did not appear from nowhere, but was born out of a true sense of faith and belief in a God who loves and welcomes all people”.
He was a committed and prominent member of the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution, taking the role of worshipful grand master amongst many other roles, he noted, and also found time to be a bell ringer in the Cathedral.
“Those who miss Sam most today do not miss him as minister or chairman, but they miss him as husband, dad, granddad and friend.”
He added: “Catherine, one of Sam’s grandchildren, always said that she hoped to marry a gentleman like her granddad (the pressure is on).”
The minister commended Mr Foster’s determination, as seen at the 1987 IRA poppy day bombing in Enniskillen.
“I think that fight was there for all to be seen at the Cenotaph in 1987 as Sam, himself fortunate to be alive, attended to those wounded,” he said. “I think that fight was recognised by Her Majesty in 2002 when Sam was awarded the CBE.”