‘Just be kind to one another - that’s the secret of a happy life’

Tommy Cooke, Pensioner of the Year, pictured with his wife, Jean.
Tommy Cooke, Pensioner of the Year, pictured with his wife, Jean.

Christmas must be great craic in Age UK ‘Pensioner of the Year’ Tommy Cooke’s house.

With nine children, 29 grand children and 17 great grandchildren the family home he shares with his wife of 57 years, Jean, never empties.

But for Tommy it is family and time spent together that makes life what it is.

That, of course, and his beloved snooker. Indeed, among other things, it is his passion for snooker, his work within the sports community and his sessions helping out at the Age UK centre at Malvern House that recently helped him win the title of ‘Pensioner of the Year’.

And it was a case of sweet revenge for Tommy’s long time pal Don O’Doherty - who nominated him for the award just a couple of years after Don was nominated himself - by none other than Tommy.

“Don and I had been going to Malvern House for a couple of years and running a wee snooker league there when one of the ladies who works there suggested I nominate Don for the ‘Pensioner of the Year’ award in 2011,” Tommy said.

“We made sure he went along for the dinner, but he didn’t have a clue he was nominated. The look on his face was priceless when he won.”

But not, perhaps as priceless as the look on Tommy’s face when it was announced this year that he had scooped the prize.

“I honestly never had a shock like it in my life,” he said. “My head was spinning and it took me a moment to gather myself to go up and pick up the trophy. I was still shaking after - not a bit right - as I walked back to the table I managed to knock over a big jug of water!”

But for all the shock, Tommy said winning the award was a “very pleasant surprise” and he was delighted Don had nominated him.

Originally from Long Tower Street, Tommy now lives in Barry Street and is retired after a long and busy working career which included time as a window cleaner, a spell with Thompson Edwards Motor Company and then, in his later years at Arntz Belting.

He describes his life as “exceptionally happy” and the key to his happy life is simply being grateful for all he has and always being kind to others.

“When I was about eight, we were living with my granny.

“There were a few elderly people in the street - and the wee old man of one of the couples died. I remember my granny saying to me and my brother: ‘Listen boys, when you see that wee old woman out in the street, you always make sure to go over and see if she’s all right’.

“So, that’s what we did. And maybe she would want us to take a run down to the shop for her, or just have a wee chat. That was how people looked after each other back then. That was just how it was done.

“I’ve always tried to remember that - and live by that,” Tommy said. So whether it’s giving one of his fellow parishioners a lift back from Mass at St, Patrick’s, Pennyburn each day, or checking on his neighbours - he does his turn.

As a Eucharistic Minister, he also finds time to talk to the sick and elderly when out on his runs. “I might sit for a cup of tea, aware that to some people they don’t have many other folks to talk with during the week.”

It’s those simple things - being kind, having time for others and his strong faith that makes Tommy content.

“Times were not always easy, but I have more than I ever thought I would have,” Tommy said.