OBITUARY: Rachel Rea had been NI’s oldest councillor

Rachel Rea
Rachel Rea

Rachel Rea was believed to have been the oldest councillor in the Province at the time she stepped down from her long-held council seat.

She was born on September 13, 1921, in Carnalbanagh - the rural east Antrim townland, inland from the port of Larne.

Rachel Rea pictuered after receiving her MBE

Rachel Rea pictuered after receiving her MBE

Her parents were William and Elizabeth Letson, and she was the second of six children in what was a farming family.

She went to primary school in Aughnagash and began work in her early teens as an “outside service”; essentially a kind of agricultural helper at country estates outside Kells.

She then worked at Gallagher’s cigarette factory in Glenarm, before taking on a job in the canteen of Carnalbanagh Primary School, where she became supervisor of the school cooks.

It was there that she remained until retiring in her 60s.

She had married her husband Patrick Rea on May 30, 1945.

She was elected to Larne Borough Council for the DUP in 1981, but had been a party member before that.

Throughout almost her entire life she lived in Carnalbanagh.

Daughter Patricia Storey said: “That’s what her interest was - working for the locals, and on local issues around Carnalbanagh. That was very much where her heart lay.

“During her time on the council, she breathed, ate and slept council. Her policy was always that if you are in something, you are in it.”

She rose to beomce deputy mayor of the borough on two occasions during the first decade of the new millennium.

Her daughter Patricia believed she had been offered the chance of the mayorship, but had declined because “she preferred to just work behind the scenes”.

She had been accorded an MBE in 2008 for her services to local government, and at the time the News Letter noted that she was “believed to be Ulster’s oldest serving councillor” - aged, at that time, 86 years old.

When the 2011 elections came, she opted to stand aside.

“She just decided, no, maybe she was getting too old. Her hearing wasn’t just as good as what it should be,” said Patricia.

Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim, was shown around the area by her when he first arrived in the constituency.

“She was very well-respected by Protestants and Catholics. She was well-known to all,” he said.

“She didn’t really get involved much in the bigger political issues of the day. She was better known for the commitment she gave local people, farmers, community groups in the area.”

In retirement she continued pursuing her interest in dogs, having been a breeder and judge of German Shepherds for some years, driving to shows across the whole island of Ireland.

Her health had begun to decline in 2014, and after suffering a fall in late June 2015, her condition deteriorated and she died on July 6 in hospital.

She was a devoted church attender, latterly being part of the congregation at Carnalbanagh Presbyterian Church.

Her funeral was held at her home on Thursday July 9, with roughly 100 attendees in the house and more outside. She was buried in Glenarm.

She is survived by sisters Lily Ford and Tilly McNeill, brother Robert Letson, children Betty Caves and Patricia Storey, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Her husband Patrick predeceased her.