He was born on 12th July, 1924, into a Christian family. His parents, John and Isabella, were founding members of Annaghanoon (now Donaghcloney) Elim Church.
He was one of five children, having two older brothers, William and Samuel, and two sisters, Rachel and Marjorie. All of these, except Marjorie (Mrs Beattie), pre-deceased him
He left school at the age of 14 and obtained employment in stables belonging to Mr Dick Hales of Banbridge. His job was to care for about 20 horses which were mainly used for hunting. It was at this time in life that he developed his life-long passion for horses and his love of working with them. As soon as he was old enough to drive, his father bought him a lorry and he began to make his living driving for various people.
In 1945, at the age of 21, he made what he believed to be the greatest decision of his life; he trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. Half-hearted Christianity was not for him and from this time on he was fervent and dedicated in his service for God. No-one who met him after his conversion would have been left in any doubt that here was a young man totally committed to serving the Lord.
Soon afterwards, he joined the Ulster Transport Authority and became a bus driver, based in Lurgan but driving throughout the province.
In 1947, he married Dorothy Beattie in Banbridge Church of Ireland. Joe and Dorothy had three children – Roy, Catherine and Dorothy. Roy passed away in December 2003.
In 1948, James McManus, a bus driver who became a Baptist pastor, established the Busmen’s Testimony Band, as a means of fellowship and witness for Christian public transport workers across Northern Ireland.
Joe was soon involved in this venture and, with other members, organised a Gospel Mission in Lurgan Town Hall in January 1952. The evangelist was Pastor Sandy Wilson, whose dynamic Gospel preaching was enhanced by the lively singing and music provided by a team of gifted musicians, and the town hall was packed night after night. Over 100 people trusted Christ as Saviour and following these meetings Lurgan Busmen’s Mission was established
Premises were acquired in the centre of the town and Joe was recognised as leader from the beginning. In 1961, the Busmen’s Mission moved to Market Street and, in the 1970s, to its present location.
In a day when mission hall attendances were declining and many historic missions were closing, Lurgan Busmen’s flourished under Joe’s gifted leadership. For years, the Sunday night after-church services were a major attraction in the area. In recent times the meetings have been held on Wednesday evenings. Sizeable crowds still attend and the emphasis on good, lively music, enthusiastic singing and faithful Gospel preaching remains unchanged. Joe English continued to lead the Busmen’s Mission until ill-health made that impossible in recent months.
In 1966, Joe went into business on his own, setting up and running Sureline Coaches. He started with six buses, but soon there were many more – about 40 of them – serving a wide area. He ran this business until 1987.
His wife, Dorothy, died in 1982 and in 1985 he married Margaret Watters who faithfully supported him in all his ventures throughout the rest of his life. Throughout, he retained a great love for horses and owned and trained many. He had significant successes in carriage-driving events at the Balmoral Show.
As well as leading the Busmen’s Mission, for many years Joe English preached and conducted Gospel missions throughout Northern Ireland and in England and Scotland.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret, his daughters, Catherine and Dorothy, his sister, Mrs Marjorie Beattie, eight grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.
His funeral service was held on Thursday, November 3, in Lurgan Elim Church, which was filled for the occasion with family, friends and associates from far and wide. A service of thanksgiving for his life and Christian witness will be held in the Busmen’s Mission Hall, Flush Place, Lurgan, on Wednesday, December 7, at 8p.m. All are invited to this, especially current and former supporters of the Busmen’s Mission.