As nominations open for this year’s Age Concern ‘Pensioner of the Year’ Awards, we caught up with last year’s winner, Derry man Don O’Doherty to discover more about him and his year in the spotlight.
79 year-old Don O’Doherty is well-known throughout the city, having raised literally thousands of pounds for charity and good causes in recent years. A dedicated snooker player, he is also responsible for bringing snooker to Age Concern Derry for the enjoyment of all.
Originally from Ewing Street off Foyle Road, Don explains: “I’ll soon be an octogenarian, and I’m about to hand the reins over to the next Pensioner of the Year.
“I was very proud to have been awarded this and a lot of neighbours congratulated me and it was wonderful! The highlight of it all, in many ways, was the week in the 5 star Hotel Westport which was my prize. It was fantastic!”
Don remembers the night that he won the accolade. “A gentleman named Tommy Cooke nominated me for Pensioner of the Year, the origins of which are quite devious,” he laughs. “He kept ringing me up and inviting us to the Pensioner of the Year presentation night, making sure we would be there. So I put on my best suit, as is my wont, and me and the wife Gertie went down and it was great craic.
“The next thing I heard was them announcing that the Pensioner of the Year was Don O’Doherty. Well, I laughed, and he said it was worth it all just to see the look on my face!”
Don has achieved many great things in his life which make him worthy of such esteem. “Some years back, Age Concern had acquired a top quality championship snooker table, it was the same table used in the Irish championship the year before. The table was installed in the games room but it was never being used. Some of the hierarchy here approached a man in Creggan about snooker and he said, if you want someone to organise snooker, contact Don O’Doherty. So they did and we haven’t looked back.”
Don is something of a veteran when it comes to the game. “I have a history of 61 years being involved with snooker! I started in 1950, just playing North West snooker and then I graduated to the veterans over 55s.”
He is also a generous and dedicated fundraiser, forever aiming to help those less fortunate. “We lifted £14,000 for wee Alan Doherty for his chin operation a few years ago, and then I wrote a book about Derry City’s cup final adventures. I sold it off and gave that money, £1,900 to Richard ‘the Lionheart’ Moore at Children in Crossfire,” he reveals.
Don thrives on being busy. “I don’t wake up in the morning wondering what I could organise today. but when the situation arises I would deem it very pleasant to do so. The joy in the giving!”
“I am very happy with my lot,” Don continues. “There are some of the great saints who said they never wasted a moment of their lives and that’s my aim in life, never to waste a day. That’s how I feel, I have tried to make the most of every moment in life. I got married in 1967 and we moved to the Waterside in 1970. We now live in Glenmore Park, the most beautiful cul de sac in Ireland.”
Of course, Don is full of praise for Age Concern Derry, based in Malvern House on Chapel Road. “Age Concern is beautiful. It’s just wonderful,” he says.
“I have been coming here for three or four years and I love it. We do everything here - art, billiards, dancing, computers, gardening competitions, meals on wheels, bingo, bowls, we are always kept busy!”
So, as Don prepares to hand over the crown to the next ‘Pensioner of the Year’, does he have any tips for a long and happy life?
“It’s just the will of God,” he says with a big smile.
Do you know someone special aged over 60? Find out more about nominations for this year’s ‘Pensioner of the Year’ awards in next week’s ‘Journal’.