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Positive news John Hume: A lesser-known life of fish, finance and football


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Positive news John Hume: A lesser-known life of fish, finance and football

Image copyright Pacemaker John Hume packed more into his 83 years on earth than most people would in three lifetimes.Teacher. Politician. Civil rights leader. Peacemaker.He served in government buildings of Belfast, London and Brussels, and was a frequent visitor to the US as an advocate for the peace process and his home town of Derry.But…

Positive news John Hume: A lesser-known life of fish, finance and football

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positive news John Hume in silhouette

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Pacemaker

John Hume packed more into his 83 years on earth than most people would in three lifetimes.

Teacher. Politician. Civil rights leader. Peacemaker.

He served in government buildings of Belfast, London and Brussels, and was a frequent visitor to the US as an advocate for the peace process and his home town of Derry.

But while his life was largely lived in the political spotlight, some of his achievements are less well-known.

On the day one of Northern Ireland most notable political figures is laid to rest, BBC News NI takes a look at the lesser-known Hume.

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PAcemaker

Positive news ‘Thran’ man – and boy

Among the many words of tribute offered to John Hume, one stands out – stubborn.

There’s a popular word in this part of the world for someone particularly set in their ways – “thran”. And Hume could embody it.

In his political career, he had to – whether facing down unionist leaders, the British Army, Sinn Féin or the critics who pilloried him for continuing to talk to Sinn Féin through the 1990s.

His stubborn streak became apparent early: Take this story, recounted in the Irish Times, of an eight-year-old Hume who had just won money as a class prize.

The headmaster, knowing the boy had money, rattled a charity collection box under his nose while Hume stared straight ahead, refusing to flinch. Hume kept the money.

He was arrested for the first time just four years later, when a policeman lifted him for playing heady (a football-based game of headers) in the street.

The Hume family were too poor to hire a solicitor, so the 12-year-old Perry Mason represented himself.

“I pleaded not guilty,” he later told BBC Radio Foyle. “The policeman got up and said: ‘But sure I caught you.’

“I said: ‘I wasn’t playing football, I was playing a heady.'”

He was fined two shillings, but praised by the magistrate for defending himself well.

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PAcemaker

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John Hume pictured in 1994 – St Columb’s College, where he studied and later taught, can be seen in the background, middle left

Positive news ‘Spoiled priest’ to transferable speech

The Education Act of 1944 changed everything for young people in Derry’s poorer enclaves, as free education made school and learning accessible to many for the first time.

It changed John Hume’s course for good, as he won a scholarship to St Columb’s College and later went on to Maynooth to study for the priesthood, only to leave before finishing his training. He later described himself as “a spoiled priest”.

Having studied history and French, he returned home and to St Columb’s College to teach.

It was his background as an educator that he credited for his repetitive locution style – or, as waggish journalists dubbed it, his “single transferable speech”.

Repeated maxims – such as “you can’t eat a flag” and “spill sweat, not blood” – were a deliberate tactic, he told The Times in 1995.

“I learnt that when I was a teacher: You keep on saying the same thing over and over until somebody says it back to you.”

Positive news Credit unions and Teenage Kicks

When asked about his proudest achievement, Hume would pass over the Good Friday Agreement, his Nobel Peace Prize and numerous accolades for something he accomplished before entering politics: The formation of the Derry Credit Union.

In the late 1950s, the city’s poor, largely Catholic communities, were caught in a miserable financial cycle – too poor to buy a home but without a house to use as collateral to secure a bank loan to help them on their way.

Hume and five others from the Bogside broke that cycle when they pooled their savings – a grand total of £8 and 10 shillings – to found Northern Ireland’s first credit union in 1960.

The co-operative not-for-profit institution gave local people an attainable source of credit.

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PAcemaker

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Without the credit union, The Undertones may never have reached their level of fame

From that meagre starter fund, the Derry Credit Union currently has more than 30,000 members and has issued more than a million loans.

Hume, aged 27, went on to become the youngest ever president of the Irish League of Credit Unions in 1964.

For decades, people of Derry have relied on credit unions to fund everything from homes and education to the fulfilment of rock dreams: The Undertones drummer Billy Doherty used loans to buy his a drum kit and keep the band on the road.

No Derry Credit Union? No Teenage Kicks.

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Pacemaker

Positive news Fishy business

John Hume had other entrepreneurial interests in his pre-politics years.

In 1952, he started Atlantic Harvest, a smoked salmon business, reportedly irked by watching salmon caught in the Foyle estuary being sent elsewhere in the UK to be smoked.

When politics took over, he sold his half-share in the company when he was first elected to Northern Ireland’s Parliament in 1969, believing a politician should not also be a businessman.

He may, however, have been a loss to the business world – Hume had another idea in his early years to bottle spring water, despite local scepticism as to whether anyone would buy something they could get for free, out of taps.

“If I’d given my life to business… I’d be a lot better off than I am today,” Hume told The Times in 1995.

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John Hume was instrumental in Seagate opening a plant in Derry

As a politician, he put his financial acumen to good use securing investment for his home city.

Meeting Seagate executive Brendan Hegarty in a Los Angeles bar, Hume said such a name must suggest a Derry or Donegal heritage.

The conversation was the precursor to Seagate investing hundreds of millions of pounds in a site in Derry in 1993.

It remains one of the city’s biggest employers.

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PAcemaker

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John Hume watches from his usual seat during a Derry City match in 2012

Positive news A sporting life

As his arrest at the age of 12 made clear, John Hume loved sport.

While he was a handy left-handed spin bowler on the cricket pitch, football was his number one love, from his days as a young player at St Columb’s to his role as president of Derry City FC.

Although the role was largely ceremonial, when the club hit financial difficulties, Hume dipped into his contact book: A letter to Sir Alex Ferguson brought Manchester United to the club’s Brandywell Stadium for a money-spinning friendly in 2000.

Celtic and Real Madrid followed and, in 2003, Hume visited Barcelona where he was awarded the freedom of the city. There, he convinced FC Barcelona’s president, Joan Gaspart, to bring his club to Derry.

Months later Andreas Iniesta, Carlos Puyol, Marc Overmars and newly-signed Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho strutted their stuff on the famously-sloped Brandywell pitch.

The fact that Barca won 5-0 was the only sign there was a limit to the club president’s influence.

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Hume’s reputation preceded the club wherever it went.

In 2013, when Derry travelled to Turkey to take on Trabzonspor, the home club prepared a personalised shirt to present to the club’s famous president. When they learned he hadn’t travelled, they gave it to the travelling fans.

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Positive news A local boy returns

Ill health forced John Hume’s early retirement – but despite worsening dementia, he did not disappear from view in his home town.

Instead he could be regularly seen at community events, prize-givings or watching Derry City from his usual Brandywell seat.

He took time to stop and talk to people on his regular walkabouts, waving to all who greeted – or honked their horns – at him.

The anecdotes are legion – taxi drivers who stopped their cars to give him a lift home, fare-free of course; people who walked with him to make sure he returned safely; cars that came to a halt on busy roads to allow him to cross with ease.

His wife of 40 years, Pat, could let John go about his day knowing the city’s residents would not let him come to any harm.

His illness didn’t completely diminish his quality of life, she noted in an interview in 2015.

“Derry is a very dementia-friendly city… People love John.”

Growing up in Derry, during the setting sun years of the Troubles, Hume cast a huge shadow.

During his own final years, he emerged from it and into the modern city he helped to build.

It was only fitting he got to enjoy it.

Positive news John Hume: A life remembered

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