OBITUARY: Cross-community Orangeman John Hanna

John Hanna at Buckingham Palace for his wife's OBE investiture, several weeks before his death
John Hanna at Buckingham Palace for his wife's OBE investiture, several weeks before his death

John Hanna was a physics graduate, politician and an Orangeman with a strong cross-community streak, whose unexpected death last month shocked his former colleagues.

He was described as an “exemplary public servant” by his party leader Mike Nesbitt, who said that his death in a tractor accident last month had left the party “shocked”.

He was born on June 27, 1948 in Banbridge to Florence (nee Greer) and Jack Hanna, a farming contractor.

The youngest of two children, his family lived in Scarva he spent most of his early life in the village.

He attended primary schoolthere and then proceeded to Banbridge Tech, before securing a place at Queen’s University where he embarked upon an engineering degree.

He later attained a degree in physics from the University of Ulster too.

He was a member of Royal Black Preceptory No 1000 and of Tullymacann Orange Lodge, he had what his widow called a “strong loyalist feeling”.

He had also been a member of the UUP since his days at Queen’s University, and was elected to Banbridge District Council around 22 years ago.

His widow Joan Baird said: “He was very much a cross-community person. He worked to bring Northern Ireland into, I suppose, the 21st century.”

While chairman of the council in 2007/08, he hosted a visit to the borough by the Republic’s president Mary McAleese.

His widow recalls that it met with a frosty reception from some fellow unionists.

“But despite the frostiness he persevered,” she said.

“And it paved the way for a visit from Her Majesty the Queen the next year.”

He continued to be associated with Scarva throughout his life, founding a community group there and helping the village compete for Britain in Bloom contests.

Mere months before he died, he had also been pleased to see the re-opening of a section of canal which runs past Scarva – something he had long campaigned for.

He also maintained a ‘day job’ throughout almost the whole of his political career.

His first steady job had been working for GEC Power Engineering in Larne, before he joined Goodyear to work in research-and-development.

He then took up a job in Lurgan Technical College teaching physics, maths and engineering, before moving into the field of medical physics with jobs at Belfast’s Belvoir Park and City hospitals.

He retired just under two years ago, and was spending much of his spare time on his hobbies of sailing and fishing.

His last year as councillor was 2015, he had been deselected as a candidate by the party as part of its strategy for contesting the newly-formed supercouncil in the area.

Joan said: “Quite honesty, I know he didn’t mind too much.

“He said himself that it was getting to the point where he had ‘done that, and worn the t-shirt’, and it was maybe time to step back from it a bit and enjoy his sailing and fishing.”

In addition, John had also developed an interest in vintage tractors.

It was while riding on one of them – an open-topped Power Major – that the vehicle mounted a bank on a road outside Ballintoy, with the result that he was flung off.

The machine then landed on top of him.

His funeral was on June 26 in St Matthew’s Church of Ireland in Scarva, one day before his 67th birthday.

He was buried in the adjoining churchyard.

He is survived by his widow, who is herself a serving UUP councillor in the Causeway Coast and Glens Council (she chose not to take his surname because she was already widely-known by her existing one in her job at the Housing Executive). They never had children.

He is also survived by his sister Sally McBriar, her husband David, his nephew (also called David) and his mother-in-law Martha Baird.