OBITUARY: Milton Thom – fireman, businessman, racing fan and Orangeman

George Best, Milton Thom and former Miss World Mary Stavin pictured in the 1970s at the Royal Hotel, Cookstown
George Best, Milton Thom and former Miss World Mary Stavin pictured in the 1970s at the Royal Hotel, Cookstown

Milton Thom had been many things – a businessman, fireman, racing fan, Orangeman.

The Co Tyrone entrepreneur died on February 5 in hospital, almost seven years after suffering dreadful injuries as a spectator at a motorbike race.

Born in the Cookstown area on January 27, 1931, he was educated at the Orritor school in the town.

His working career began when he was aged around 15 as a mechanic at a Cookstown Vauxhall dealership.

He progressed to be a successful salesman with the firm, then later purchased a grocery and petrol station with wife Meta (whom he had married in 1952).

They worked there until 1973 when he purchased the Royal Hotel in the town.

Grand-daughter Tanya Thom said it had not even been for sale, but he had struck up a conversation with its owner and an agreement was reached.

She said: “Grandad had already done the deal, and then came home and told granny he had bought a hotel.”

The hotel on Coagh Street, Cookstown, enjoyed a string of well-known sports visitors over the years, ranging from wrestler Giant Haystacks to moustachioed Liverpool FC icon Ian Rush.

Outside of his business, he was also Vice-President of the Mid-Ulster Section of the NI Branch of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, and a member of both the 396 Masonic Lodge and the Drumnaglough Orange Lodge.

He was also a particularly big motorsports fan, and had been president of the Cookstown and District Motorcycle Club, and attended Isle of Man TT races.

Ultimately, through a horrific twist of fate, it was this love of racing which sparked the terminal decline in his health.

While he was at the Skerries 100 in Dublin in 2008, some of the competitors collided.

A News Letter report of the time said it appeared he had been in a friend’s front garden next to the circuit, and that “one of the bikes involved in the accident hit the garden wall Mr Thom was watching from behind, rupturing the petrol tank and showering him with burning fuel”.

Around 80 per cent of his body was burned, and he spent a considerable period in hospital.

He experienced various health problems over the last years of his life, and Tanya added: “He was a fighter. There’s many a man half his age would never have stuck the pain he went through.”

In the end, his body “just shut down” while he was in the Antrim Area Hospital on February 5.

Meta had died in 2013, the same year they celebrated the 40th anniversary of their ownership of the hotel.

His funeral was on February 7 at Derryloran Parish Church, followed by interment in Cookstown Cemetery.

He had also been a firefighter in his younger days, and his coffin had been carried by the Mid-Ulster branch of the NI Ex-Firefighters Association.

He is survived by daughters Jennifer Henry, Audrey Brodison, Hilary Greer and Glenda North, sons Brian and Stephen, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Mid-Ulster UUP MLA Sandra Overend said he “will leave behind a legacy in commerce, sport and culture, having given so much time and energy to local motorcycle racing and pipe band fraternity”.