OBITUARY: Harold Patterson, Christian retail boss who did not fear death

Harold Patterson took over the family business aged 19
Harold Patterson took over the family business aged 19

He was such a committed Christian he became an elder of his church aged just 21.

But Harold Patterson will probably be best remembered for the business prowess he displayed at the helm of the store which still bears his family name.

Born February 1, 1930 at a family farm near Ravernet, Co Down, he was one of four children to father Smyth Patterson and mother May.

He went to Legacurry Primary and later Wallace High, leaving at around 16.

His father had set up a farming goods store in Lisburn in the mid-1930s while still running the family farm, and when he died suddenly in 1949 – at the age of 51 – sons Hubert and Harold were left to take on the business. They were aged just 17 and 19, respectively.

Harold’s family said that despite being elevated to the role at such a young age, he had remained calm throughout, with son Trevor (an Anglican minister based in London) saying he “put his hand to the plough and never looked back”.

Of the two brothers, he probably became most recognised as leader of the firm, and together they helped develop the eponymous Smyth Patterson outlet into a department store as the 1960s arrived.

Like a great many businesses in the years that followed, it was ravaged by explosions.

“They survived the downturns of the early 1970s and the business was bombed a number of times,” said Trevor.

“Never levelled – but a couple of serious bombings.”

On one occasion, a car had been left in the back yard of the store, and somebody – not wanting the vehicle to be locked in when it closed – drove it outside.

It turned out to have been carrying an IRA bomb, which later detonated.

Though he “probably had nominal unionist leanings”, said Trevor, he was not political. However, he was deeply involved with Railway Street Presbyterian church (where he was an elder).

He used to hold “squash clubs” at he and his wife’s house – so called because they would invite a horde of young people to cram into the home, where they would sing and study the Bible.

He also took groups of children on trips to Donegal and Scotland, and co-founded a youth society in the town called the Y-Club. He was accorded an MBE in 2008 for his community work.

He continued working until well into his old age.

Nephew Colin had taken over Smyth Patterson about five or six years ago, while he moved to JC Patterson’s electrical goods shop – only stopping when it closed a year ago.

Outside of his work and his faith he had also been a keen amateur cameraman, and among the footage he obtained was colour film of the Queen arriving at Aldergrove in 1953 – besting even the BBC, which only managed black and white.

In January he developed chest pains, and when taken to the Mater in early February he was found to be suffering from pneumonia. He also went on to contract MRSA.

He died at the hospital on Sunday February 22, aged 85.

“He was a man of strong faith and had no fear of death, which was a comfort to us all,” said Trevor.

A thanksgiving service was held on Friday February 27 at Railway Street church. He was buried at Annahilt Presbyterian Church beforehand.

Widow Meta (whom he had wed in 1957) and his two sisters Jean Patterson and Maureen Martin survive him.

He is also survived by sons Smyth and Trevor, daughter Hazel Rolston, and four grandchildren.

As for the Smyth Patterson department store, it remains at the same location in Market Square as when it was founded, and employs roughly 60 staff.