Ben Lowry: Austin Hunter was as charming as everyone says

Former News Letter Editor Austin Hunter. Pic Gavan Caldwell
Former News Letter Editor Austin Hunter. Pic Gavan Caldwell

Austin Hunter was as likeable as all the tributes have said.

I joined the News Letter months after he reliquinshed the editorship, but first encountered him years before that, when he was communications head for the police.

In recent years, he stayed in touch with this newspaper, where he was held in affection.

He had a fine way with people. On November 3, as the week got pressured (as it does when our big Saturday edition nears) and when I was even more stressed than usual because I was flying to America early on the Saturday, Austin arrived in our Belfast office.

I was deeply ensconced in a story, unaware he was there until he said something charming beside me, then laughed and apologised for interrupting. He was leaving in a book we were serialising.

As you would expect from someone both so experienced and charismatic, he was well connected, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s article on P14 shows.

During the Brexit referendum, I had tried to interview every politician of note who campaigned in Northern Ireland. The big name I did not get was Theresa May, because Austin had arranged an unmissable meeting with important people for the same time.

That morning, as he poured tea and and joked that he chosen the location for the scones, I was struck by how youthful he seemed for a man in his 60s. Now he has been killed in Bahrain. We do not yet know exactly how.

Last year, at a school reunion, the only person to have died in my year was killed in a motorway pile-up in Italy.

Most of us do not know how we will die, but we do not anticipate it will be like that. When we are travelling on a road overseas, for example on my US trip, we might be thinking of umpteen things – our hotel, next meal, the fact we are running late – but not the fragility of life or the chance that catastrophe might strike.

Like hundreds of other people, I will miss talking to Austin, and drawing on his deep well of knowledge.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

Ronnie Flanagan: Amid the challenging transition in policing, Austin Hunter played a key role

Sandra Chapman: A tribute to Austin Hunter

Austin Hunter wrote: ‘Nothing compares to being News Letter editor’

Ben Lowry: Again this week we saw why we need to pause on the legacy inquests that Sinn Fein is demanding

Ben Lowry: RHI excesses were criminal in spirit, so why not in law?