Tributes paid to accomplished and respected journalist who had deep knowledge of Armagh

Joy Rolston
Joy Rolston

Tributes were paid last night to Joy Rolston, a long-serving and accomplished Armagh journalist who died on Saturday after an illness, age 80.

Joy (nee Somerville), a Portadown-born woman, worked for several newspapers in Portadown and Armagh, before embarking on a very successful career as a freelance journalist, from her home in Armagh city, covering for 30 years main news, security and political stories for the national press and media, including the News Letter.

She started as a junior teenage reporter with the old Portadown Times in 1954 and, when Morton Newspapers took over the title, Joy remained there for more than a decade. She spent several years with the Armagh Guardian and also had a short spell with the Ulster Gazette.

Ulster Unionist MEP and former Armagh Mayor Jim Nicholson said Joy Rolston was an all-encompassing journalist who had her finger on the pulse of every facet of news coming out of Armagh and district.

“Joy’s political coverage was fair and balanced and, as a court reporter, she excelled. She was feisty at times, but when she filed a story you knew it was accurate and detailed,” said Mr Nicholson.

Senior News Letter journalist Billy Kennedy writes: “Joy was a top drawer journalist who, like myself considered the News Letter to be her paper. She was a professional on every story she embarked on and her daily coverage for us in Armagh during the Troubles was invaluable. She was a good friend and I deeply mourn her passing.”

Retired Portadown Times journalist Brian Courtney started his career as a teenage cub reporter as Joy in their home town.

“Joy and I were contemporaries; our careers in Portadown ran parallel until she moved to Armagh. As a journalist, she was at the top of her craft, meticulous and accurate with a terrific shorthand proficiency. She had few peers in the world of provincial newspapers and, in a male-dominated profession at the time, she was first division,” said Brian..

Former News Letter editor Rankin Armstrong got his first job as a junior reporter in 1971 under the editorship of Joy Rolston at the Armagh Guardian.

“As an editor, Joy was tough but fair. This was at a time when female journalists were few. There was little that escaped Joy’s attention; she had a strong network of contacts in the Armagh area and was highly regarded for her coverage of the courts, council meetings and Troubles- related incidents. Joy wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, and she didn’t give special treatment to anyone. If someone was to ask her to keep a court case out of the paper, then they would have received short shrift,” said Rankin.

News Letter Farming Life editor Ruth Rodgers joined the Co Down Outlook in Rathfriland 27 years ago as a ‘green’ junior reporter and was introduced to a number of veteran journalists in the Newry/Armagh area who helped her.

“Out of them all Joy Rolston was the most flamboyant. I met her at a court sitting in Newry and as always she was immaculately turned out - stylishly dressed, accessorisied with bracelets and rings and a pair of sunglasses perched on her blonde curls, with not a hair out of place.

“As a naive 17-year-old, she struck me as someone who was incredibly experienced, driven and ambitious - a lady who had forgotten more in her career than I could ever hope to learn. She had been there, done it and seen it all throughout the Troubles.

“It was clear immediately, she was an excellent reporter - having worked for a long time as a freelance; she didn’t let anything get in the way of filing the story and she had first rate contacts. I also found her to be incredibly encouraging and generous with her advice at that stage there weren’t that many females in local journalism and if I had actually been working on her patch it may have been a different story - she guarded her area ruthlessly.

“I remember in our first conversation she asked me what I would like to specialise in - but as a weekly reporter there is little opportunity to focus on just one element of reporting. She told me her favourite type of reporting was crime, and this was very much evident as she had a real nose of a hard-hitting court story and at that stage court reporting was very much her bread and butter.”

• A funeral service for Joy Rolston is today, 2pm at Cheevers funeral parlour, Hamiltonsbawn Road, Armagh