OBITUARY: Wilson Ervin went from the high seas to the world of high finance

Wilson Ervin
Wilson Ervin
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Wilson Ervin survived a near-sinking in the Pacific Ocean and went on to become one of the biggest banking figures in the Province.

Born into a working class Belfast family on November 13, 1923, he attended Fane Street Primary School in the south of the city (where his headmaster praised him as a “very competent, hard-working and good boy in every way”).

He then went to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI), leaving in 1941 to work with the Dungannon branch of the Belfast Banking Company – which later merged into Northern Bank.

This stint lasted only a few months before he signed up to the Fleet Air Arm (part of the Royal Navy), aged 18.

“He just felt it was his duty to serve his country,” said Hans Robinson, his nephew by marriage.

He worked on RADAR systems and navigation onboard a number of ships, including HMS Illustrious.

Much of his war was spent patrolling the Pacific, and at one stage during his service his ship came under kamikaze attack from the Japanese.

The vessel survived, but had to be largely rebuilt.

He talked only in “snippets” about his wartime experiences, though.

“I assume there were just maybe too many memories there,” said Mr Robinson.

He finished off his service off the coast of Burma as a petty officer, being awarded the Burma Star for his efforts.

During his military service he had continued to study finance, and completed his final exams at the Institute of Banking upon his return from the war.

He then embarked on a journey which took him from the post of clerk to being chief executive of the Northern Bank in Ireland.

The role involved him in major investments, loans and organising bank security in the midst of the Troubles.

Despite his senior position, he had never wanted anyone to shadow him for security purposes, with Mr Robinson saying: “He wouldn’t have wanted to waste other people’s time or put them at risk on his behalf.”

He remained at the head of the bank from the early 1970s to 1984, and was accorded a CBE in 1986 for his work, as well as his efforts for charity.

He then worked at Farrans building company before retiring completely around the turn of the millennium.

His other roles have included being a governor of RBAI, as well as vice-president of lifeboat charity the RNLI and the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society – where he had a hand in the organisation of the Balmoral Show.

He was also a trustee of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and had been an elder at Fisherwick Presbyterian Church for more than 50 years.

It was there that his funeral was held on February 25.

Mr Ervin had died three days earlier following bouts of ill-health, which included pneumonia. He was 91.

He had lived in Broomhill Park in south Belfast until the end of his life.

He was cremated, and his ashes will be placed at the grave plot of his wife Joan (nee Mercer) and her parents, whom he had married in 1956.

She had predeceased him in 1995.

Mr Ervin did not have children, and no close family have survived him.