Vanguard unionist Robert Overend ‘never intimidated’ by murder attempts

Robert Overend was from Bellaghy in Co Londonderry and was honoured for services to the pig industry
Robert Overend was from Bellaghy in Co Londonderry and was honoured for services to the pig industry

Robert Overend, the former Vanguard unionist politician who died on Monday at the age of 86, never allowed the numerous threats on his life by republicans to intimidate him.

Mr Overend’s son Nigel said his father was a “strong person” who would “never be bowed” in his focus for the things he invested his time in.

Mr Overend, from Bellaghy in Co Londonderry, had been breeding pigs since 1958.

In 1990 he was given a European Award for Agriculture for his contribution to the genetic improvement of pigs in the UK and in 1996 he was given an MBE for his devotion to the pig industry.

He will also be remembered as a prominent member of the Vanguard Unionist Party in the mid-1970s, later joining the United Ulster Unionist Party. He was a member of Magherafelt District Council and also part of the Constitutional Convention.

It was his time in politics that attracted the attention of the INLA. Mr Overend and his family were targeted by a number of booby trap bombs with one attack in 1982 resulting in his son Robert being seriously injured.

Nigel, who is married to the UUP’s Sandra Overend, said: “Before he retired from politics he had survived a number of assassination attempts. The house was blown up twice. He and my other two brothers survived three booby trap devices. He came through a lot.

“He was a strong person. He was somebody who was never intimidated and he always kept going at whatever it was he had invested his time in. He never bowed down to anything like that.”

Mr Overend was a lifelong member of the Orange Order who held a number of positions in the county and Grand Lodge, including deputy grand master.

Just a week ago Mr Overend retired from the board of governors at Bellaghy Primary School after a remarkable 48 years.

It was a poignant ceremony given that he currently has grandchildren and great grandchildren at the school.

Nigel said: “Any of the organisations he joined he became heavily involved with.

“First and foremost he was a very family-orientated person and very strongly influenced by his church.

“He has helped to mould all his children and his grandchildren and has helped to instil a strong sense of work ethic in us and always to try and achieve the best we can and walk the straight path.”

Mr Overend is survived by his wife Reena and children Robert, Elizabeth, Wesley and Nigel. His funeral will take place today in Ballyscullion Parish Church at 2pm.