Tributes to Victor Gordon - PC Class of 1958

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Victor Gordon (1941 - 2017)  -  A journalist with a passion for uncovering truth.

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FOND MEMORIES OF VICTOR  -  By fellow journalist and friend Brian Courtney
(With thanks to Brian for permission to use)

Victor Gordon was a giant of journalism and a highly respected reporter whose ability for piercing the barriers presented by officialdom and getting the facts, earned him a fully deserved reputation of being one of Northern Ireland’s outstanding men of letters. Victor was a man whose qualities of investigative journalism were on a par with the best in this province. I have absolutely no doubt that if he had wanted, he could have carved out an outstanding career in Belfast, or further afield. Fortunately for Portadown and its hinterland, he had a deep love and affection for his home town, and he always had a pride for its achievements and the important place it occupies among provincial towns in the province.

His knowledge, his writings and his great versatility were key ingredients, and it was one of the reasons why the Portadown Times, with David Armstrong as its editor established itself as the top provincial newspaper in the province. David, Victor, and the others produced a newspaper which set new standards in the field of journalism, and the sales of the paper soared. I didn’t know Victor all that well before he joined the Portadown Times, but we both grew up in ‘The Walk’ area of the town, and exchanged greetings as we met in the street, or the Peoples Park adjacent to our homes. I really got to know Victor well when he became a contributor to the Portadown Times with special articles in the late 1960s.

I re-joined the Portadown News, rival paper of the Times in 1967, and a few years later Victor, who had been a very successful social worker, joined the Portadown Times in a full-time capacity. That’s when we really got to know one another, and although our new found friendship was soon flourishing, it didn’t alter the fact that we were working on rival papers. Like all journalists, we both liked to ‘scoop’ the rival and get exclusive stories, and it was a real achievement to put one over on Victor. This applied especially in the field of sports journalism, and as we were both covering Portadown Football Club matches for our respective papers, there was a keen rivalry each week. Gibby McKenzie was manager at the time, and he liked to be in sole charge of releasing information to the Press. However, both Vic and I had contacts within the Portadown camp, and this enabled us to get special stories. Gibby did his best to try and trace the sources for some of our stories, but was unsuccessful. I was happy to put one over on Vic at times with headline catching football stories, but invariably he equalised the following week with one of his exclusives.

In 1973, the Portadown News was bought by the Morton Group and the paper was incorporated with the Portadown Times. Portadown News reporters, including myself, now had to adjust to working for the Portadown Times. If we had any doubts about how we would be treated, these quickly evaporated as Times editor David Armstrong and his deputy Victor Gordon welcomed us and made it clear we would be part of the team. Victor Gordon was wonderful in this regard, and he not only extended the hand of friendship, but invited me to join him and other members of the staff to the get together each morning for tea.

One of my new responsibilities in the Times was to share with Victor the monthly and mid-monthly meetings of Craigavon Borough Council. This was a time when Craigavon earned the unenviable reputation of being the most divided council in Northern Ireland, due to its bitter sectarian exchanges at meetings. It was a time when councillors refused to sit alongside opposing councillors at meetings. Things became so heated at times at meetings that the Mayor often had to call a halt for an hour to enable things to calm down. Many contentious items were debated at marathon meetings, and I recall Vic and myself having to go home for an hour to get our supper, before returning before midnight to complete our coverage of meetings which could last until well into the early hours of the next morning! Victor had great contacts within the council chamber, and he had access to many documents which were meant to be secret, and withheld from the Press.

He investigated many alleged wrongdoings, and he was so successful that it was said that newly appointed senior Council staff were warned when taking up appointment, to be very careful, because any shortcomings would be exposed by Vic and the Portadown Times! It was said in jest that Vic had a ‘mole’ in the council chamber who would slip confidential papers to him, and at one meeting there was hilarity when a councillor claimed that he saw Vic’s ‘mole’ scurrying through a door with important documents. Indeed, the whole leakage thing was treated so seriously that one Mayor of Craigavon called on his colleagues to follow his example and stand up in the chamber and either deny or admit that they were responsible for briefing Vic on matters meant to be confidential. The Mayor formally denied that he was responsible, but after several councillors had followed his example, others refused to comply and the whole thing ended in farce.

There was no chance that Vic would ever disclose the name of a contact, and he kept the secret to himself, proving that anyone providing him with information would not be exposed. I must stress that Victor, in every case, always ensured that the allegations made were valid and deserved to be publicised. He was always professional, and fair, and checked the stories with painstaking investigation. Vic may have been keen to get exclusive stories, as he proved on many occasions, but he never ran a story without ascertaining the facts and ensuring that it was fair and valid. He had an enormous number of contacts, and few journalists would have had so many names and phone numbers in their diary.

Victor had a deep and abiding love of Portadown, and he was intensely proud of the fact that it was one of the leading provincial towns in Northern Ireland. He was always keen to promote the town in every way, and this included interviewing people from Portadown who had made their mark in their careers. People like Gloria Hunniford, the renowned film critic Alexander Walker, comedian Charlie Douglas, Northern Ireland international footballer Davy Cochrane and actor Denys Hawthorne were among those featured in a series of articles written by Victor, who travelled to England to interview them. His brilliant articles resulted in Victor winning many awards and recognition, including Northern Ireland ‘Weekly journalist of the year’ on half a dozen occasions.

My friendship with Victor included a shared passion for Portadown FC, and like myself and so many supporters, he celebrated the great feats of the team managed by Ronnie McFall which brought four Irish League titles to Shamrock Park, along with three Irish Cups, and many other trophies. Who could ever forget the day the Ports defeated Linfield to clinch that first title in 1990, or the 2-1 Irish Cup final win over great rivals Glenavon the following year. But Vic agreed with me that perhaps the most memorable game of all was the nail-biting clash with Ards at Castlereagh Park the week before the Linfield match. Ports had to beat Ards to keep in front of chasing Glenavon, and with only seconds left for play, the teams were locked in a scoreless draw. Then, in truly sensational style, Sandy Frazer popped up with the winning goal to send us all delirious with joy.

For many years, Vic and myself, along with his daughter Fiona, our friend John Connor, and my nephew Alexander Prentice travelled to each away match in Vic’s car. We called ourselves the Killicomaine Reds Supporters Club, and those trips to Ballymena, Coleraine, and the Belfast grounds resulted in a close friendship being forged, and many happy memories. Victor’s commitment to Portadown FC was such that he travelled from Cork to attend matches at times when the Portadown Male Voice choir, of which he was a member, had its annual commitments in the most Southern city on this island. It involved an all-round trip of some 400 miles, and Vic shared the driving with his close friend Sammy, an ardent Glenavon supporter.

Vic also shared my great interest in politics and he was to bring the same expertise displayed in so many other aspects of his career in covering elections. It didn’t matter whether it was Westminster, Stormont, or council elections, but Victor brought the same intensity to his coverage. In the run up to elections he would interview all the candidates and do personal profiles. All the candidates received the same treatment, irrespective of party allegiance. On election count nights Vic was in his element as he observed the proceedings, and long before the election result was declared, he could predict who was going to be returned to office. He had the statistics and facts of previous elections in his file, and had an uncanny ability to spot electoral trends.

One example which springs to mind was how he predicted that David Trimble would be elected the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and was one of the few, indeed if not the only journalist in the province to tip Trimble for the post. Sadly, like all of us who were working during the Troubles, Victor had more than his share of covering murders, bombings, shootings, riots and lawlessness. It was a grim and awful period, and I helped Vic on many occasions in reporting murders and their heart-breaking aftermath as we interviewed families and friends of those slain or wounded. Victor was marvellous in the way that he handled such terrible assignments, and in his reporting and interviewing families he showed the same compassion and understanding which made him such an outstanding journalist.

When Portadown town centre was wrecked by a huge IRA bomb in the mid-1990s, Victor was pivotal in joining with all the other staff in reporting one of the biggest explosions of the Troubles and its impact on the town and community. Happily, when more normal times returned, Victor was able to turn his talents to exploring the developments which were transforming Portadown in so many ways. In many of the conversations we had in the months before his death, Vic told me how concerned he was at what he detected was the decline in Portadown’s proud shopping, business and commercial base. It was this combination which had led to Portadown being known as ‘The Hub of the North’ from the 1930s, and Victor was annoyed as shops and store closures were announced. He felt that all people and groups with influence in the town should concentrate on spotlighting this trend, and doing everything possible to return Portadown to its once proud pedestal.

On the other hand, he was delighted that this town has one of the lowest unemployment totals in Northern Ireland. Time and time again he made the point that Portadown is in an enviable position with firms like Almac, Moypark, Irwin’s, Ulster Carpets, Kingspan, and many others on its doorstep. Aware that I am a waterways enthusiast, he declared that at long last Portadown has a realisation of how big an asset the River Bann can be to this town. The boulevard and canal towpath, along with a new café beside the river near the Bann bridge are examples of this new found interest. Incidentally, at the time Victor reached official retirement age, we both walked the canal towpath between Portadown and Newry, and in subsequent articles, he spotlighted the need to have the oldest summit level canal in the British Isles restored, and open to boating once again.

Victor was considering retirement at that time and knowing that I have an interest in history, he suggested we visit some of the most important places of interest in Northern Ireland and Dublin. We went to Dublin and visited places like the Four Courts, Dublin Castle, Islandbridge, Stephen’s Green and the Customs House, as well as the Bank of Ireland where the old Irish Parliament of the 18th century had met. It was a very enjoyable day and one of the most enjoyable we had spent in one another’s company. We had plans for visits to a number of places closer to home, but Victor admitted that he found it difficult to adjust to full retirement, and I wasn’t surprised when he told me that he was going back to what he did best – reporting on the Portadown scene.

It was an important decision, and Portadown was very much the winner, because Vic once again brought the same commitment, expertise and abilities which singled him out as a special reporter in covering the town’s events of the past decade. Portadown Times readers looked forward each week to reading the ‘Vic on the Box’ column, as well as his hard hitting stories of every aspect of Portadown affairs. He had lost none of his appetite for digging out the facts about issues which affected the town and its people, and they looked to him to protect their interests as he had for so many years.

Victor had many other talents, not least his valued membership of Portadown Male Voice Choir, and the choir of Armagh Road Presbyterian Church. But his biggest priority of all was his love and pride in his family, and that was always uppermost in his thoughts and actions. Sadly, his health had deteriorated in the past year or so, but Victor never wavered in his interest and support of everything connected with his profession. When the Portadown Times office closed in the town centre, Victor obtained alternative office accommodation in William Street, and that meant people could still call with him and have their stories dealt with. He still found time to make his way to the cafes where he knew I was having tea with friends on several days each week, and he really enjoyed the craic and the conversation we had on a wide range of issues.

Victor may have passed on, but his legacy will carry on for a long time, and his positive impact on Portadown and the wider Craigavon scene will be a fitting memorial to the great service he provided to the borough and its people.

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Portadown Times Tribute to Victor Gordon - A journalist of the highest calibre.
(With thanks to Portadown Times for permission to use)

The Portadown Times lost one of its own this week with the sad passing of our former deputy editor and giant of journalism - Victor Gordon. The seasoned news reporter's career spanned virtually the entirety of the Troubles. A journalist of the highest calibre Victor was quite simply one of a kind and his profession and the town as a whole is much the poorer following his death at the age of 75. Victor began working for the Portadown Times around the very early 1970s and rose to become its deputy editor not long after. He was still a highly valued contributor to this newspaper up until the time of his death. Victor was diagnosed with liver cancer just last month and passed away just two weeks later - surrounded by family, at home in Portadown late on Sunday evening.

Tributes have flowed in from ex-colleagues and former interviewees alike. His former boss - ex-Portadown Times editor David Armstrong recalled that Victor turned to journalism in his mid-20s after an "unhappy" early stint as a quantity surveyor, and also a period working as a teacher for special needs children. Initially Victor (known as 'Vicky' to colleagues) had co-tributed rugby reports to the paper on a freelance basis for about a year, before Mr Armstrong offered him a full-time job. "I actually interviewed him on a park bench in Portadown public park" he said. "I knew the stuff he was writing for me, the rugby notes, and I'd never have had to change a line in it. I would never have had to dot an 'i' or cross a 't'. The stuff was immaculate. "I had a vacancy, offered him the job - and he jumped at it. I just knew that he could do the job, and he certainly never, ever let me down"

Victor took on the role of general reporter on the paper, which then had around four news staff, plus a photographer. Within about four to five years, he was promoted to the deputy editor's post. Mr Armstrong (who retired about to years ago) said, "He carved out a hugely successful career for himself. "Ivan Little in the Belfast Telegraph described him as one of the best journalists he had ever known, including all the boys in the dailies, "He was like a dog after a bone. If you'd got a story, he chased it until he got it. "The paper won a lot of awards - design awards, awards for journalism, and he himself won the 'weekly journalist of the year' award, I think five times:

After some years, he took on the editorship of the Armagh Guardian, but "never really wanted the job", because he would much rather chase stories than act as a manager. Nonetheless, while he ran the Armagh operation it jumped in circulation, before he returned to Portadown as deputy once more about a year later. "He was a one-off," said Mr Armstrong. "You could have bet your life on him, and many's the time I had to during the worst of the Troubles in Portadown. "Portadown was a difficult place, and we were all from Portadown. So it wasn't easy to report the Drumcree stuff - or to report any Troubles stuff. "There were murders practically every week at one stage, and Vicky was in the middle of it reporting them all".

Victor had been born on the Garvaghy Road, now a largely nationalist/republican district. At the time of his birth the area had less housing and was largely Protestant, but changed rapidly in the following decades. "He'd have written a lot of the editorials in the paper, and he was always preaching common-sense and reconciliation. Because he grew up - as I did - in a very different Portadown. "The Troubles caused him an awful lot of heartache." Despite advancing years, "retirement was never in his diary", and he was still working up until a few weeks ago - adding that latterly he was particularly good at writing obituaries.

After marrying his wife Elizabeth he had moved to Abercorn Park, on the eastern side of the town, where he remained until the end of his life. A keen rugby player and athlete in his school days, he later faced difficulties. When he rang Mr Armstrong from hospital two weeks ago to tell of his cancer diagnosis, Victor knew it was terminal. He had been a life-long tee-totaller, and did not smoke. In addition to his work, Victor had volunteered with the Boys' Brigade, and had sung with two choirs - Portadown Male Voice Choir, and the choir at his own place of worship, Armagh Road Presbyterian Church in Portadown.

"The key to Vicky's life was loyalty - loyalty to everything," said Mr Armstrong. "To the paper, to me, to the church choir, the male voice choir, the Boys' Brigade. "He was 100 per cent loyal to all those organisations." Speaking of his final weeks, he said, "He faced the illness with the same courage as he faced life. "He was very realistic about it - he knew what was happening and he faced it with great courage."

News Letter editor Alistair Bush, who was Portadown Times editor between 2007 and 2015, described Mr Gordon as the best journalist he has worked with. "With the greatest of respect to the Portadown Times, Victor could have gone on to much bigger things. "He was a journalist of the highest quality and had numerous opportunities to move on but he was fiercely loyal to the paper and he absolutely loved reporting on news from his home town. "He will be greatly missed, not just by his family but by a whole community. All our sympathies to Elizabeth and the family."

Current editor of the Portadown Times, Clint Aiken, said, "Victor was a true all rounder providing superb reports across a wide range of subjects from hard news to features and sport. "He was truly a character, a man all of us in the office respected and we have been devastated by his loss. We have lost a friend, confidante and valued advisor. Our sincerest sympathies go to his family at this sad time: Victor is survived by his widow Elizabeth, brother William, daughters Heather and Fiona, son Paul, and grand-children Cameron and Sarah. His funeral took place on Wednesday at Armagh Road Presbyterian Church, Portadown.

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A fair man who always wanted the best for the town  -  By Mairead Holland
(With thanks to Mairead for permission to use)

Mourners at the funeral of Portadown Times journalist Victor Gordon heard him described as a man who loved his town and his church and gave years of service to both. Victor (75) passed away peacefully on Sunday evening at his Killicomaine home with his family at his bedside - less than two weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. Armagh Road Presbyterian Church was packed on Wednesday for the service conducted by the Rev Christina Bradley and attended by people from all sections of the community.

They included politicians, past and present colleagues from the world of journalism, business leaders and the ‘ordinary’ people whose stories Victor had told through the newspaper. Among those attending were Daphne Trimble, wife of former First Minister David Trimble, Brid Rogers of the SDLP and broadcaster Ivan Little. Tributes to the veteran journalist, who won five awards during his long career, were paid by his brother Billy, son Paul and by former Times editor David Armstrong.

The father-of-three and grandfather-of-two, who lived all his life in Portadown, was described as a man who had devoted not only almost 50 years to journalism and to highlighting injustices but also 38 years to the Boys’ Brigade as an officer, as well as unstinting service to the church choir and Portadown Male Voice Choir. Both choirs sang at the service which was followed by a private committal at Seagoe Cemetery. Victor is survived by his wife Elizabeth, son Paul, daughters Heather and Fiona and family circle.

Victor Gordon was a Portadown man through and through - and this has been reflected in the many tributes from townspeople who got to know him down the years. Barry Knox, of Knox's Butchers in West Street, said his late father Tommy and Victor were good friends and that friendship continued with the rest of the family after his father died. "Victor was a true, honest and fair person. He came into the shop regularly and we always looked forward to seeing him. We held him in great esteem," he said.

Another shop where Victor was a regular was Winnie's newsagents in Woodhouse Street. Marion Donaghy, Winnie's daughter, said, "He was a true gentleman and very personable. "He came down to everyone's level and I think that's why he was so good at his job. I am just gutted. You couldn't meet nicer than Elizabeth and the family. "He was very loyal to the town. He wanted the best for Portadown."

Julie Flaherty, now a UUP councillor, met Victor when she was campaigning to retain children's heart surgery in Belfast on behalf of her late son Jake and other young patients. She said, "When Jake was little and the campaign began Victor was the first to my door. He came in and sat with Jake on his knee and we planned our next moves. "He had a long history of working with children like Jake and Jake just loved him. I so wish I had taken a photograph of the two of them together, but one never thinks at the time."

Elaine Sterritt, from Ballyoran Community Association, said Victor's death was a sad loss to Portadown. "He was not only a journalist, he was a friend to many. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from. He was a kind and considerate man, a really good person. He was an advocate not only for the Portadown Times but the whole town." Elaine said Victor and her mother, Yvonne, a dedicated community worker, had become firm friends over the years. She added, "When Mummy died he was one of the first people to come to the house and pay his respects."

Portadown Times photographer Tony Hendron was a long time friend and colleague of Victor. He said, "Victor and I worked together for over 30 years, much of it through The Troubles. We were first on the scene of many murders. "We were a dedicated news team and contacted each other when we got a tip-off or breaking news story. We got into many scrapes but we also had great craic together. "We were the eyes and ears of the Portadown Times."

Upper Bann MP David Simpson said, "Victor Gordon was a true gentleman in every form. He took time with each person he came into contact with and was at the heart of the community in Portadown." Senior News Letter journalist Billy Kennedy expressed his deep sorrow at the death of a close colleague and friend over 40 years. "Few journalists of his day could match Victor's editorial skills and ability to communicate on behalf of the ordinary man and woman on his beat," he said.

Tributes also poured in from MLAs and councillors from across the political spectrum among them Alliance leader Naomi Long. "I was privileged to know him personally and enjoyed chatting about politics, football, singing and my capacity to speak without taking a breath. His quick wit, sharp humour and graciousness will be much missed by all who know him," she said.

Mark Russell, chief executive of the Church Army, said, "I first met Victor through Boys' Brigade circles when I was a boy, and at various points in my career he has run stories about what I have been up to. "He was a reporter with integrity, a gentleman who also had a backbone of steel when he needed it. "Portadown and the Portadown Times are the poorer for his passing, and all of us who call the town home mourn his passing."

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Portrait of Victor Gordon by Billy Austin        Portrait of Victor Gordon by Billy Austin

BILLY'S PAINTING OF A 'TRUE FRIEND' DONE JUST WEEKS BEFORE UNEXPECTED DEATH.
(With thanks to Billy for permission to use)

Tandragee man Billy Austin completed this water colour painting of Victor just a few weeks ago, to give his friend of 50 years "a lift". He said, "I painted it after reading on Vic's Facebook page that he was not feeling good and was finally retiring. I thought a portrait might give him a lift. "I brought the painting to him on Saturday three weeks ago and he told me his legs were giving him a lot of trouble and he was due for hospital tests two days later. That's when he received the bad news that his illness was terminal."

The pair had spent an hour chatting, during which Victor had told Billy, a former advertising director at Morton Newspapers, that he was planning to write a book on the "antics" of the staff at the Times during the past 40 odd years and would be calling on him for suggestions. Said Billy, "With the talent of a 'scribe' like Vic, his book would surely have been a bestseller. "He was a true friend with a quick wit and a great sense of humour. He was a one-off. It's so sad that the 'Legend' has gone."

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Victor in Portadown Male Voice Choir

Above: Victor was a member of Portadown Male Voice Choir.

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PC Rugby Team
(Photo courtesy of Jim Lyttle)

Above: Brothers Victor Gordon and Billy Gordon played in the PC 1956-57 1ST. XV. Rugby Team.

Back row L to R:- Mr. William Navan (Coach) - Charlie McDonald - Victor Gordon - Billy Gordon - Peter Graham - Mervyn Cander - Edward McCann - Keith Wiley - Kenneth Bell - Dr. Donald Woodman
Front row L to R:- Carlo Tortolani - Maurice McAvoy - Hector McAlpine - Victor Locke - Kenneth Wilson
- Austin Elliott - Aubrey Black - David McCann.

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OTHER LINKS.......

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/mentor-and-mate-victor-gordon-was-fearless-and-peerless-36098607.html

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/features/hold-the-front-page-after-decades-of-reporting-the-news-victor-gordon-has-become-the-big-story-34466090.html

http://www.irishnews.com/news/2017/09/05/news/legendary-portadown-journalist-victor-gordon-dies-peacefully-at-home-after-short-illness-1127830/

http://www.portadowntimes.co.uk/news/victor-gordon-was-a-journalist-with-few-peers-1-8135816

Some of Victor's many memories (PDF)


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