John Robb, the Ballymoney surgeon, who died last week, was a man of many parts.
He was a brilliant teacher and I learnt much about clinical medicine from him. He founded the New Ireland Group in 1982 and became the voice of peace and reconciliation.
He set out a vision for a society accommodating both the Irish and British traditions “where Gael and Planter could work together and live in peace”
John Robb was from the liberal Presbyterian tradition and became a member of the Wolfe Tone Society as early as the 1960s.
He served on the Republic of Ireland’s senate for three terms of office from 1982 -89 and went as far as learning Irish in adult life.
He was also one of the first to wear a poppy in the Irish senate.
His funeral on Saturday was attended by many from all shades of opinion, including uniformed members of the Irish Army representing President Michael D Higgins. Obituaries have outlined many of John’s achievements. I have two personal anecdotes from earlier years.
We were all attending a Christmas party in a friend’s house. Suddenly smoke was smelt and John shouted “Turn out the lights and we will find the source”.
Sure enough we did, and the cause fortunately extinguished as it was beside the Xmas tree (probably a cigarette butt in those days).
The other anecdote was a medical graduation party on the Copeland Islands. By surprise a little plane from Newtownards flew over the gathering and dropped a bottle of whiskey and some goodies in a home-made parachute.
The pilot was John Robb.
John was a man with humanity and principles and a fine sense of humour. He got his message across by force of his personality.
His epitaph could be partly summed up in Oscar Wilde’s aphorism: “It is personalities not principles that shape the age”.
For John it was both.
Sidney Lowry (Prof), Co Down