Obituary: Life spent in pharmacy, philanthropy and faith

Neil Gordon, founder of the eponymous chemists' chain, with daughter Fiona in 1985
Neil Gordon, founder of the eponymous chemists' chain, with daughter Fiona in 1985
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Neil Gordon’s business prowess was well known.

He helped turn a single chemist in Donaghadee into a network spanning both sides of the Irish Sea.

Today the firm which bears his name, and which he co-founded with his brother Robert, employs around 800.

What he was perhaps less well known for were his charitable endeavours.

For one, the Christian elder was a board member of the charity service known as the SOS Bus.

Commonly seen in Shaftesbury Square, this gigantic yellow vehicle helps often drunk and drug-addled revellers late at night in the Province’s capital, offering everything from soup to medical support.

The north Down-based entrepreneur was also a trustee of the Lighthouse Trust.

Founded in 1997, it assists children with cerebral palsy, offering them an eight-week summer school.

He was a co-founder of the Donaghadee Community Workforce, designed to help the long-term unemployed back into work via socially-useful projects, and was also one of the executive members of Belfast City Centre Management since 2004, rising to the rank of vice-president and remaining active in it right up until his death.

He also earned various posts and accolades within the industry.

Lastly, in his spiritual life, he was also an elder in Donaghadee’s Shore Street Presbyterian.

His contributions to civic life were cut short when he died on June 20, aged 61, following a fight against colorectal cancer.

He had been born in Newry on October 17, 1952.

The son of a farmer, and one of five children, he was educated at Newry Model Primary, Newry Grammar, then the University of Bradford, where he studied pharmacy.

He had worked at his uncle’s pharmacy in his early teens, and it was when he was in his late 20s that the first branch of the company was opened.

This eventually went on to become a network of 62 shops, covering both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It was at the time of this initial opening that he met Carol, his future wife.

His funeral heard that expanding the business seemed like a fun adventure to him; scarcely like work.

However, around the turn of the millennium, Mr Gordon began a long battle with cancer.

In its latter stages, he had to go to Germany for treatment.

His faith and the support of fellow churchgoers aided him, and he was said to have borne his burden with – as one brother put it – “unbelievable courage, strength and determination”.

Neil’s legacy, he added, would be the example he set in always thinking of others.

He is survived by his siblings, mother Jean, widow Carol, their children Ryan, Gareth and Fiona, as well as his grandchildren, Jack and Emily.

Around 700 people came to his funeral at St James’ Anglican Church, Holywood, on June 23. He is buried at Newry Road Cemetery, Banbridge.