OBITUARY: Charlie Johnston – last-ever mayor of Carrickfergus

Charlie Johnston had been a member of the Orange Order since the age of eight
Charlie Johnston had been a member of the Orange Order since the age of eight

There was an outpouring of warm words for veteran unionist figure Charlie Johnston following his death last month, ranging from a crowd of football fans to the First Minister.

A stalwart of both political and sporting life in his native Carrickfergus, he lost his battle with cancer aged 64.

Born on April 22, 1950, in the town, he attended Carrick Model Primary and then the Intermediate school.

He first stood for council in 1973, and his family believe that – at the time – he was the youngest councillor in the borough’s history.

A staunch unionist, he nonetheless remained independent until much later in his career, when he signed up to the DUP.

Mr Johnston’s career saw him named a freeman of Carrickfergus and serve as its mayor four times.

Given the council’s imminent dissolution (when the new Mid and East Antrim authority takes over in April), he was the last mayor the town will ever have.

Asked what motivated him to get involved in politics, widow Patricia said: “He was a people person, and was the type of person who’d do anything for anybody.”

Meanwhile he continued working various day jobs, including being a manager at Standard Telephone & Cables in Monkstown, and later a door-to-door insurance salesman in Belfast.

The latter was particularly risky during the Troubles, and he was once held up and robbed at gunpoint.

His last job was as all-Ireland manager for Candy King – a pick-and-mix sweet company.

He had been a member of a junior section of the Orange Order since age eight, and went on to be a member of Woodburn Ebenezer LOL787 and the Royal Black Institution.

Besides spending over three decades as a councillor, one of his other defining achievements was his involvement with Carrick Rangers FC.

He served on the board of directors for decades and was secretary at the time of his death.

He had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2011 but despite an operation, it returned and went on to affect his kidneys.

When his team secured a landmark victory on Christmas Day, winning the Steel and Sons Cup, he had been too ill to attend.

Instead, the trophy was brought to his bedside in hospital after the match.

He died at home in Carrickfegus at 7.15pm on February 24, with members of his family present – including wife Patricia, who he had married in May 2014.

In addition to his council and sports work, he was also chairman of the board of governors of Greenisland Primary School from 1977.

His funeral was on February 27 at Carrick Methodist Church. It was estimated that the church holds up to 800, and there were further crowds outside.

His funeral procession travelled through the town centre, stopping at both the town hall and Carrick Rangers FC’s home ground, Taylors Avenue. He was buried in Victoria Cemetery.

After his death, Peter Robinson described him as “someone deeply rooted in the local community, and I know that his passing will be keenly felt by everyone in the Carrickfergus area”.

In one poignant and spontaneous tribute, following a match at Seaview stadium on February 28, a section of fans rose to their feet in the stands and began to chant: “There’s only one Charlie Johnston” as the team departed the field.

He is survived by his daughter Charlene Johnston-Reid, son Samuel, and widow Patricia (his ex-wife June also survives him), as well as by brother William, sisters Margaret and Nancy, stepchildren Justin and Tori McKinney, four grandchildren and three step grandchildren.