OBITUARY: George Savage, 1941–2014

George Savage worked on the farm until being taken ill this year
George Savage worked on the farm until being taken ill this year

George Savage was a quiet man, who barely even spoke about his terminal illness as he drew close to death.

Mr Savage, who succumbed to cancer earlier this month, was a farmer, long-serving UUP councillor, ex-MLA, former soldier, and member of the Orange and Black institutions.

A strong unionist, his widow said that he also counted Catholics among his friends and – in short – had simply wanted to see everybody get along.

Born in Lurgan on November 28, 1941 to mother Jean (nee Lamb) and father George, he was the eldest of six siblings in a dairy farming family.

He attended primary school in Lisnasure, but his widow Joy said that was the extent of his schooling.

“He couldn’t get left school quick enough to get to the farm,” she said, adding that he had started to help out with agricultural chores from around age 11 onwards.

He joined the Orange Order aged 15 (following in his father’s footsteps) and was also a member of Donacloney Methodist Church, having begun to attend Sunday school from age four.

He and Joy met in 1962 and married two years later, going on to have three children by 1970.

He moved into a bungalow at Wattie’s Hill, Dromore, where he still lived at time of death.

He joined the UDR in 1971 and would work on the farm during the day, then go out on patrol during the night.

Luckily, despite serving for 14 years, his widow said he did not directly experience any violence.

In 1981 he joined the UUP after being asked to stand following the death of a councillor.

He was successful, and served as mayor of Craigavon from 1985 to 1987.

It was during Paisley’s fiery ‘Ulster Says No’ campaign against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and his widow described it as a “difficult time”.

“In his two years as mayor, he was mayor to everybody,” she said, describing him as a “quiet and fair” man.

Asked about his views, she said: “He thought it’d be a good thing if they all surrendered their weapons and came together for the good of the country.

“He wanted that to happen so much. He stood by David Trimble, and he had to take a lot of stick for it.”

Some had asked why he was sticking by such a “traitor”, but he just “held his head up and kept going”.

He stood as an MLA in 1998, and was elected to the Upper Bann constituency.

Perhaps the toughest time he faced was his deselection as a Stormont candidate in 2011; a decision which had left him upset.

He had not had any serious health problems, and was still working on the farm until being taken ill this year.

He had been complaining of a pain in his side, and his colour changed.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and was told that there could be “no operation, no surgery, no treatment”.

Given up to six months to live, he died after four weeks.

Describing his final weeks, Joy said: “He went home. He never talked about it. But he was getting weaker and weaker.”

Despite being in pain, “he didn’t say an awful lot”.

He died at home with his wife and three sons on October 1, at 6.30am.

He was 72.

His funeral was at Donacloney Methodist Church, Co Down, on October 3, and he was buried in the nearby graveyard.

He was also a director of Glenavon FC and was involved with the Buddy Bear Trust; a charity supporting children with cerebral palsy.

He is survived by Joy, brothers William, James and Desmond, and sister Irene (brother Noel had died three years earlier, also of cancer).

Also surviving him are his sons Nigel, Kyle and George, and seven grandchildren.