The congregation at Donemana Presbyterian in Co Tyrone were yesterday devastated at news their minister, the Rev Dr Stewart Jones, had died in an accident off the Co Donegal coast on Saturday.
The 56-year-old father of three, who was also the Presbyterian Chaplain at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, had been diving near St John’s Point with a man in his 30s from Londonderry when the alarm was raised.
The pair were airlifted to hospital where Rev Jones was pronounced dead.
Tributes yesterday poured in for the Co Tyrone clergyman from the Donemana community.
Clerk of Session at Donemana Presbyterian Tommy Allen, who described Rev Jones as “a good friend”, said: “He was a diving instructor and was coaching someone at the time it happened. I have known him for the past 10 years when he came to Donemana.
“He was very outgoing, very bubbly, very energetic and always on the go. Diving was his main pastime. You never would have thought it would have happened to such a big, strong man.”
Mr Allen said yesterday morning at church there was “terrible news for the whole congregation”.
“I spoke to his wife Patricia for a short time to offer my sympathy,” he said.
“It is a devastation. He was very much involved in all the things that go on in Donemana – the Board of Governors, community associations and other groups.”
UUP MLA for Newry and South Armagh Danny Kennedy, who grew up with Rev Jones in Bessbrook, said he was the clergyman’s contemporary at school.
“He was from the Bessbrook area and he was a lovely fella, a very fine fella,” said Mr Kennedy. “He was academically gifted and very clever. He was the eldest of the Jones family and there was enormous pride within the family and the local community when he went into the church as a Presbyterian minister.”
In a statement, Bishop Donal McKeown told of his “great sadness” at the death of Rev Jones.
“Rev Dr Jones was known to many people of all faiths and none in his role as a member of the chaplaincy team at Altnagelvin Hospital,” he said.
“He was outgoing, with a great energy and zeal for life as well as being very down-to-earth and approachable,” he added.
The chairman of a community group in the north-west of the Province, Dennet Interchange, yesterday described Rev Jones as “a most valuable and able advocate for the entire community”.
Paying tribute to Rev Jones, Lesley Craig said: “Stewart was a man of vision, who looked ever to the larger interest and bigger picture.
“His intelligent and progressive personality, combined with his formidable academic prowess and great pastoral experience informed us all for the greater good. We are all personally grieved at his untimely passing.
“The entire community in this area and beyond owe a debt of gratitude to him for the time and wise counsel he brought to us. To the community at large, and most especially at this time to his wife Patricia and daughters Anna, Esther and Rachel, we offer our sympathy.”