OBITUARY: Transport figure Jack Kernohan helped change face of bus travel

Jack Kernohan
Jack Kernohan

Jack Kernohan was one of the driving forces behind Wrightbus from the firm’s early days, and helped to literally change the shape of bus transport in the UK.

The former carpenter rose to head up the firm’s sales, and was granted a Royal honour in recognition of his work shortly before his death, aged 78.

Born on August 29, 1937, in Ahoghill, Co Antrim, he was the eldest child of six to Robbie and Isa Kernohan.

Officially called William John, he became known simply as Jack.

He was educated at Fourtowns Primary School and then at Ballymena Tech, where he studied carpentry.

Jack went into business with the founder of Wrightbus in 1955, helping to build coaches before becoming a salesman in the early 1970s.

He rose to become a sales manager, and from 1980 on he was the firm’s sales director.

“My dad was responsible for travelling the length and breadth of the UK, finding a market,” said his son Rodney.

He spotted an opportunity in what are known as low-floor buses.

“I remember school buses, where you climbed three steps to get on,” said Rodney. “That’s not very user-friendly for a woman with a pram or someone with special needs.”

He said Jack spent decades trying to persuade councils, bus firms, and others of the virtues of the new lower-style design– a type which has grown in popularity.

“The foundation of the way you step onto a bus seamlessly across the UK was based on the hard work Jack Kernohan did,” said Rodney.

Such was his dedication to his craft that he designed and built his own motorhome, made at partly out of a written-off old bread truck.

He retired in 2005.

He had kept cigar boxes containing slides of all the various buses he had sold over the years, and was pursuaded by a friend to compile a kind of biography of Wrightbus.

The result was a volume, three years in the making, called ‘The Wright Way’.

He also spent his retirement raising cash for causes such as cancer research and the Ulster Scots Society.

He was a member of Moyesset LOL 531, and a long-time member of Cunningham Memorial Presbyterian Church in Cullybackey (where he had lived until later moving to Ballymena).

Around 18 months before his death, he had been diagnosed with cancer.

He opted to accept chemotherapy and to fight it, and Rodney said that he had been “managing” the disease well.

However he then suffered falls, hurting his back and hip.

While in the Royal Victoria Hospital, his condition deteriorated sharply and he died on the morning of Sunday, September 6.

He had been accorded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours and, knowing that he probably be too unwell to visit Buckingham Palace, arrangements were made to bring it to Northern Ireland.

It was presented to him in the hospital by the Lord Lieutenant of Co Antrim, and pinned on his pyjamas.

His funeral was held in Cunningham Memorial church on Tuesday, September 8, and he was buried in Cullybackey New Cemetery.

He is survived by widow Martha (whom he wed in 1964), son Rodney and daughter Lynda.