Hundreds of people packed St Patrick’s Pennyburn this afternoon for the funeral Mass of one of Derry’s most respected businessmen, a man Bishop Edward Daly described as a “good friend”.
Family, friends, politicians, employees, members of the business community and formers customers gathered to say goodbye to James Doherty who Bishop Daly said gave so much to this community and city.
The 90 year-old passed away on Friday after battling ill health.
Outside the church pupils from St Mary’s College and St Joseph’s Boys where James served as a member of the Board of Governors formed a guard of honour. And members of the Knights of St Columbanus, an organisation James was deeply involved in, wore their traditional robes in memory of their great friend.
Inside members of St Eugene’s Choir of which James was a lifelong member provided the music.
Those attending the Mass included John Hume, former employee and deputy first Minister Martin McGuinness and Foyle M.P. Mark Durkan,
Eight priests celebrated the Mass included Bishop Edward Daly, Bishop Francis Lagan and Father Michael McCaughey.
Bishop Daly said for almost 70 years James Doherty has been making a major contribution to the life of this community in myriad ways.
“He brought his ability and intelligence and generosity to the life of his city and well beyond,” he said.
“In any society, it is very easy for a person who is successful professionally or commercially to opt out of any public service.
“Throughout his life, James has engaged in public service in many capacities. He was an elected Nationalist member of the old gerrymandered Londonderry Corporation – which must have been one of most frustrating forms of public service imaginable known to man.
“He was actively involved in the Civil Rights Campaign and the subsequent Derry Citizens Action Committee.
“He then served as chairman of the Western Education and Library Board and was a member of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive when these were newly created bodies changing the face of education and housing here in the 1970s and 1980s and addressing some of the dreadful housing injustices of the past and the evolving nature of education.
“In all of these responsibilities, he gave of himself most generously. I would like to lay particular emphasis on James’ outstanding contribution to the work of the Western Education and Library Board and CCMS.
“That cannot be over-emphasised. His involvement in education did not end with the completion of his term of membership of the Board. Up until relatively recently, he was very actively involved as a member of the Board of Governors of many schools and was an invaluable contributor to the management of each of those schools.
“I knew nobody who read minutes and other material more carefully than James, nobody who came to every meeting with his work so meticulously prepared, nobody who was more up-to-date in matters educational.
“He thought deeply about education and perceived it as so important. He was always open to new ideas. As a former school trustee, I would like to put on record my sincere and profound appreciation of the magnificent contribution James made to Catholic education and education generally in this diocese and far beyond.
“And then there was his membership of St. Eugene’s Cathedral Choir. This was also treated most conscientiously. He was a lifelong member. I simply do not know where or how he found time for so many activities. He was a very loyal and dedicated member of the Cathedral Choir for more than 60 years. It is so fitting that his choir is here today singing at his Requiem Mass.”
He paid tribute to James’s dedication as an employer in Derry.
“He was very good employer – concerned always for the welfare of his workers and respected by them,” he said. “In an area where there is and has been chronic unemployment, James consistently provided steady and worthwhile employment for many people over the years, even in very troubled times. Local people who create and manage business or industry should be specially honoured and respected in any society. They are so important to the common wellbeing.
“Most importantly of all, James was an outstanding and exemplary father and husband. He and Phyllis were a loving couple totally dedicated to each other and to their family. He missed Phyllis greatly since she died 12 years ago in 2003.
“He was given a Papal Knighthood in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. He was a very worthy recipient of that honour.
On a personal note, James was very good friend to me. He gave me very good and sound advice at times when I was need of and sought such guidance. He had strong opinions and he was not afraid to express them. He offered constructive and searingly honest criticism when it was needed. He was a wise and prudent man. He had a great zest for life and enjoyed life. It was indeed a privilege to have known him for so many years.
“In recent years, he was weakened by illness. He bore this challenge with great courage and dignity.
“James was greatly loved by his family who cared for him devotedly during his illness. I express my profound sympathy to Seamus, Ian, Thomas, Maire, Eibhlin, Philomena, Treasa, Niamh and Sean. You can all be intensely proud of your father.
“James Doherty loved this city. He loved his God, his Church and his neighbour. He exemplified everything that is good about public service, everything that is good about Derry, everything that is good about Christianity.”
Following the Funeral Mass James Doherty was laid to rest in the city cemetery.