In memory of William Norman Downey
At the start of this week I was joined by my good friend Dermot Downey who spent Tuesday cycling with me – through torrential rain and thunderstorms! Dermot was there for me in Croatia at the start of my journey, joined me in the middle this week and will be there with his family at the finish line on Saturday 17th October in Alton.
Dermot's been there for me a lot over the many years I’ve known him. My 'wingman' - we met in extraordinary circumstances, have flown together, rented together and have many wonderful and hilarious memories. We are incredibly close and he’s like a brother to me. I would like to retrospectively dedicate Tuesday’s cycle to Dermot’s father William Downey who died of cancer in 1996. I only got to meet him once, when he was already ill but from everything Dermot has told me, he sounds like an amazing man, I can see where Dermot gets it from.
I’d like to share some of Dermot’s memories of his wonderful Dad. William Norman Downey (1931-1996)
Dad grew up in rural Northern Ireland, spending time on his cousins farm which gave him an early interest in farming and fishing. He remained a country man at heart, preferring the peacefulness and probably the characters in the countryside.
At University he got an unexpected chance to fly and had his first flights in austers and tiger moths. He loved it and flying became a passion that would never leave him. The aircraft he flew were impressive, from Harvard, Vampire and Meteor with the auxiliary air force based in Belfast Aldergrove to the Argonaught, Comet VC10 and 747 with a career in BOAC/BA and Singapore Airlines.
Not bad considering he spent a year in bed with T.B when he was in his twenties. The doctor told him to forget about a career in flying as that was no longer possible. My aunt recalls that as the doctor spoke these words, Dad looked the other way as if he hadn’t heard him!
His career as a pilot not only satisfied a passion in flying but also created another one, in travel and the world. Having studied geography at University in Belfast he then spent 35 years exploring as much of the world as possible either through work or with my Mum on some fairly adventurous trips.
Dad wasn't naturally talkative, but when chatting, it was normally very interesting or funny as he had a very dry sense of humour. Not being one to tell stories about himself, I’m sure there is a lot untold. One letter I did come across though, that fell out of the back of his log book was a letter of commendation. Flying formation aerobatics, he had an engine failure in a single engine vampire. The letter went on to say he entered cloud in an estimated down-wind position, flying a circuit to break cloud at 900 feet and successfully land back at the airport he took off from! After the flying stopped he returned to a simple life in the country in Devon and was just as happy in a field or with a fishing rod, or making things from wood as an accomplished carpenter. Both Mum and Dad were happy sharing each others lives. He left Mike and I with his passion for flying and Shaun, his passion for farming and the countryside. A quiet, unassuming person in many respects, with friends who valued his company. Thoughtful and funny, he certainly gave us a wonderful life. Dad died on 19th January 1996 from cancer and we still all miss him, his sense of humour and the sage advice he offered. One of the saddest things for me is that he never got to meet Saffi, Milo or Lucy, or they him.
It was great to cycle with you Dave, my dad would be full of admiration for the challenge you are undertaking. He would have loved the simpler side to Croatia in Starigrad, and probably would’ve learnt to catch squid! I wasn't joking about one of his friends telling me he saw dad catch a trout by hand – I think it’s called ‘trout tickling’! According to my dad’s friend he was the only person he ever saw do it! Thanks for dedicating this day to Dad, it means a lot to us all.
Almost twenty years might have passed but the ache of losing someone so special never really goes. So for Dermot - my ‘brother from another mother’, it’s a pleasure. I’m only sorry I didn’t have the chance to get to know your dad as well as I know you. He would be so proud of you. Thank you for being there for me.