Top UUP figure Primrose Henderson was ‘a loving wife and helped at any time of day and night’

The late Captain OWJ Henderson and his wife Primrose , who has just died, on their 50th wedding anniversary.The late Captain OWJ Henderson and his wife Primrose , who has just died, on their 50th wedding anniversary.
The late Captain OWJ Henderson and his wife Primrose , who has just died, on their 50th wedding anniversary.
Tributes have been paid to Primrose Henderson, a leading figure in the UUP whose husband was a former owner of the News Letter and MP for the party.

Mrs Henderson, wife of the late Capt. OWJ (Bill) Henderson, passed away on September 30. She is survived by her daughters Gail, Jackie and Penny, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Her youngest daughter, Penny, who worked on the News Letter in the 1970s, paid a warm tribute to her mother.

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“She was a wonderful loving loyal wife,” she said. “As our mother, she was always available any time of day or night to help with anything and lend a kindly ear. She was a wonderful cook and never minded people dropping in unannounced. Everybody was always welcome.

“When the grandchildren appeared she relished having them to stay and they loved being with her because she was such a fun granny. Her older great grandchildren adored her but unfortunately age and failing health prevented her from knowing the younger ones as well.”

Capt Henderson was chairman and managing director of Century Newspapers which published the News Letter from 1959 to 1991. His family owned the title for almost two centuries. Fondly remembered by staff, he was also an MP in the Stormont Parliament for five years in the 1950s. Primrose married him in 1949 and worked hard to support him in the family business and throughout his political career.

She was born in 1928 to Col. Vincent and Gundred Forrest (nee Ewart) at Hospital House, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast where her father was Superintendent.

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Home educated in Comber and Glenmachan House, Belmont, she later went to Manor House School, Armagh during the early years of WWII. From 1943-5 she finished her education at Downe House, Newbury in Berkshire.

An accomplished hockey and lacrosse player, she joined Belfast Ladies Lacrosse Club and played matches all round Ireland, her family said.

“On numerous occasions the family home became the hub for entertaining visiting business and political people including at least a couple of Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland,” her family said. “She was a very competent hostess. Throughout her life politics played a large part – supporting her husband through elections during the early 1950s, canvassing and supporting various candidates in numerous local and national elections as a member of the UUP.”

For over 60 years she was a dedicated supporter of unionism, taking over her husband’s post as President for Victoria Unionist Association until her death.

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A keen horsewoman and for a time in the 1960s, she was secretary of the North Down Pony Club while two of her daughters were members. She was also a founding member of the Riding for the Disabled Association in Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with the USPCA.

Mrs Henderson was a lifelong member of St Mark’s Parish Church, Dundela, a church with which her family, the Ewarts of linen manufacturers William Ewarts and Sons, were associated for generations.

A second cousin-once-removed of CS Lewis, a regular visitor to her childhood home, she was also much involved with the CS Lewis Society. Due to declining health, she spent the last 21 months living in the Somme Nursing Home in Belfast.

UUP peer Lord Empey described her as “a very modest woman” but added that she was also “a hard core Ulster Unionist, who not only supported her late husband Capt Bill Henderson when he was a Stormont MP (for Victoria) but also as a life-long activist who tramped the streets for the party in all weathers”. He added: “She was a true believer in the union and she will be missed by all her colleagues in east Belfast.”

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Party chairman Danny Kennedy said he was saddened to learn of her death, describing her and her husband as “leading figures in our party, particularly in East Belfast”.

“Both Bill and Primrose gave long and dedicated service to this party and we remember their contribution with gratitude,” he said. “On behalf of the entire party I offer the Henderson family our sincere sympathy at this sad and difficult time and also to all families touched by grief and tragedy in recent days. May God bless and comfort them.”

The funeral Service will be held on Friday October 9 at 12.30 pm in St Mark’s Parish Church, Dundela, Holywood Road, Belfast.

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Alistair Bushe