Rev Johnston Lambe delivered this tribute to Molly at her funeral on Friday 17th April 2020.
Today we come together to give thanks for the life of Mrs Mary Blair, or Molly, as she was better known to us all. Molly was born on the 25th February 1921, at 10 Dooish, in Treantaghmucklagh, Co. Donegal - daughter to John and Ellen Gibson. In order to have more room, they moved to Pluck Station House, where her father was the stationmaster for the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway. Her father had also been a member of the Donegal UVF and the 11th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the First World War – something which Molly was very proud of.
She was born 6th in a family of 10 - 6 girls and 4 boys, so she lived in a busy and lively house, as you could imagine. There was a variety of generations in the Gibson household. Molly was one of the younger children and was close to her late sister Georgie. Sadly, Molly was the last surviving member of her generation. Molly attended Ray Primary School, a one room school in Labbadash, near Pluck. Molly used to exaggerate to Billy and James that it was a 3 mile walk, with a bag of coal on her back, UPHILL in both directions. The school was all in the Irish language, although the students spoke English,
She moved to Belfast at the age of 13 and a half, to help her older sister Belle, who had been left with 3 children to look after, following the death of her husband. Thus began Molly’s association with Mountpottinger Presbyterian Church. The family church in Donegal had been 1st and 2nd Rye Presbyterian, where, from an early age, Molly learned the truths of God’s word.
Molly settled quickly into life in Belfast and it wasn’t long before most of the family also travelled to Belfast. Molly was never afraid of hard work. Her first job was in Woolworths, then during the war she worked in Mackies doing ammunitions work. After the boys went to school, she gained employment as a member of kitchen staff, working as a cook for the RUC, in RUC headquarters, and then for the Education Authority, in Avoniel Primary School. She often spoke of her time in both jobs and the demands of each were taxing. She loved the school kitchen with its challenges of making her budget go as far as possible and using up the allotted ingredients in as equitable and tasteful a way as she could. She retired at the age of 65, but that didn’t stop Molly from always being busy. She was a woman who didn’t suffer fools gladly and wouldn’t see anyone in her way. Life was too short to be idle.
She met her late husband, James, a joiner from Carntall, in Carnmoney. They were married in Mountpottinger, on the 25th December 1943, by the Rev. Mosey Thompson and then went to live for a short time with James’s mother in Carntall. Country life was not for Molly and it wasn’t long before they returned to the city. They settled in 122 Greenville Road, where they stayed for all of their married life. Sadly, with James’s sudden death on the 11th December 1987, life was to change for Molly, but (never a woman to get under things, or even to express her emotions, so it seemed) she simply got on with life.
She and James were blessed with two sons – Billy, born in 1945 and James, born the following year. Molly loved her sons dearly and was proud of all their achievements. She worked hard in those early days to support them and was delighted with their marriages to Florence and Annice. Billy and Florence moved around because of Billy’s role within the building society and James, following his graduation, immigrated to Canada. Molly was always happy to see the family and especially loved James’s surprise visits.
The family extended with the arrival of grandchildren (David, Jonathan, Mark and Michael) and then great grandchildren (JJ, Amy, Atousa and Kurt). She loved her grandchildren and was particularly close to David and Jonathan.
David and Jonathan always loved to stay at granny’s when they were little, probably for each of these three bizarre reasons: red jam sandwiches for supper, one sided toast for breakfast and the great boyish fascination of being allowed to pee down the grate in the back yard - although these great privileges were normally balanced by the immense amount of walking and carrying of groceries, baked goods and cooked dinners that had to be distributed around Belfast to all the people on Molly’s radar that needed “looking after”.
Sunday Dinner was always at granny’s. She had saved two long, coloured plastic spoons from a one time purchase of a couple of Knickerbocker Glories somewhere and every Sunday whoever ate ALL their dinner got the great honour of eating their pudding with one of those fancy spoons. David seemed to always get one of the spoons and he says this explains his size still today. He also says, “This was no easy feat, as she used to strain all the other kids’ vegetable soup and heap all their veg. into mine.”
Molly loved it when Jonathan moved to Belfast, first across the street and then around the corner in Hyndford Street. Breakfast, lunch and dinner service were resumed from Greenville Road, while Jonathan drove around the town on her errands. Jonathan’s death, after his struggle with cancer, was the only time I saw Molly’s steely personality shaken. I think it was the reality of how young Jonathan was and how hard he had fought his illness with such courage and tenacity, just like Billy her son.
She loved to see the grandchildren in Canada on her visits there and on their surprise visits to Belfast. Today no one will mind if I pay a particular tribute to David, for all his attentive care of his granny - only the best was good enough for her.
David, you got away with giving Molly orders and directives that no one else could and I know she loved you dearly and appreciated all you, along with Sharon and Amy, did for her, but the real apple of her eye here in Northern Ireland was JJ, whom she spoke of during many of my visits to her. May I also pay tribute to Florence; James and Annice in Canada; grandson Mark and wife Golnar; grandson Michael (currently in London) and great grandchildren, Atousa and Kurt for all the loving care given to Molly - I know it was hard to do at times, because Molly had a mind of her own. I trust the happy memories of her will continue to bring comfort to all the family and to all who cannot be here because of our current situation - memories of holiday times (and particularly the 12th); of times spent in Bangor over Christmas and of visits both to Greenville Road and Donovan Fold.
After Jonathan’s funeral Molly was in no rush to go back home to Belfast and once she did, she felt that, even after living in Greenville Road for over 60 years, she didn’t want to be there. She felt lonely without Jonathan. So a new part of her life began - in her wee bungalow at Donovan Court. She loved living there with company around her, even though she outlived at least three waves of neighbours. Her front door was always open and the inner door was removed, so she wouldn’t miss anyone passing. Every wall was covered in photographs of her family, especially her great grandchildren, Atousa, Kurt and JJ.
Up until the age of 98 (in February last year) she was still to be seen walking down to Tesco and was still getting her own shopping, doing her own cooking and washing - and of course polishing her brasses on a Monday.
David said, luckily for him, Molly asked if she could move to a care home, for she was getting tired and a little lonely, as the new generation of old people at Donovan were a full generation younger than her. A place was found in De La Cour House. Her room was geographically centred between her old home on the Greenville Road and Jonathan’s house on Hyndford Street. She was back home again among some old neighbours who were also now residing in the home and surrounded by the nicest and most attentive care team. She was very happy and settled there. She had a philosophy of life that she did not want to be a bother to anyone. She would rather give than receive.
I remember on one occasion, I called at the bungalow, only to find her with her bag packed heading to hospital. She was waiting on the off chance David would arrive and she would get him to take her to Musgrave Park Hospital. He hadn’t arrived as she had expected, so she was about to phone a taxi. I agreed to take her and as we travelled I asked her had she told anyone she was going in for carpel tunnel surgery on both arms? She said, “I just left David a note telling him what was happening.” After leaving her in, I phoned Florence and Billy to let them know what was happening and of course they had no idea. That was Molly - independent as ever.
Molly travelled all around the country on the most used pensioner’s bus pass ever issued. Journeys from Castlereagh to the City Centre; out to Sprucefield and back again, just to get one apricot Swiss Roll from Marks and Spencer; Newtownards every Saturday morning for the Market; Bangor on a Wednesday - the running never ended. Translink used to run what they called “Mystery Tours”, which Molly usually loved, apart from the time the bus left the Centre of Belfast, then drove up the Westlink and back down again for a guided tour around Belfast City Hall. The poor driver got an earful that day for his nonsense. Indeed, she was an intrepid traveller and clocked so many air and bus miles - to Donegal to see family; Blackpool illuminations; many long summers in Canada and later in her late eighties, often out to Mallorca with Georgie to visit Sylvia. She loved it there so much that she even had a wardrobe of clothes which she left over there so she could travel light. She loved the church holidays and was always ready for a day out. I remember some memorable days out on Easter Monday to Newcastle, along with the Seniors’ day trips.
I also have great memories of keeping the peace between her and Georgie, especially when Georgie thought she should have been visiting her more often. Georgie never took into account that a trip to her nursing home took two buses for Molly and Molly was older than Georgie. The hostilities never lasted long and they usually got on so well.
Molly had a great love and interest in the Orange, about which Mervyn has already shared with us. I should say it was alright for HER to criticise Mervyn, but well dare anyone else do the same and I should also add that the only time she ever missed the prayer meeting was on a lodge night - something we often gave her and Bertha some stick for. She will be fondly remembered and missed by her sisters in the Lodge, but her testimony will live long.
Molly’s death has left a great hole, not only in the lives of her family, but also in the lives of her church family in the church which she loved and supported tirelessly. From her earliest days, Molly had a personal faith in the Lord Jesus. Being the most senior member of our congregation, she was sadly missed when no longer able to join us in church during the last year, but her interest in the congregation is legendary. On profession of faith she was received as a communicant member of Mountpottinger and she took that role very seriously, never missing the prayer meeting, or the Sunday service and her generous support of the church was exceptional. When Molly joined with us in the prayer meeting, and when she prayed, it was from the heart and with a deep and abiding confidence in her Lord. She never missed her freewill offering; made marmalade and sold it to neighbours and friends for PW and property appeal and made soup and stew (some of which she gave and sold to her elderly neighbours). She went to the market in Belfast well into her nineties to buy vegetables for her soup - no convenience ‘pre –chopped’ stuff for Molly! Her efforts raised thousands of pounds in support of mission and the church. She also made scones for the Seniors for many years. I remember the morning I went to tell her of her sister Georgie’s passing - she was standing making 4 dozen scones for Seniors. Her stuffed bacon rolls were always a welcome addition to their Christmas dinner and for the last few years I was actually allowed to help her make them. She served as member of the church committee and PW and was also a faithful member of the Mixed Fellowship. She sang in the Praise Group. She was cook, along with Georgie, at GB camps in the past and rarely missed the displays, supporting both the Boys’ Brigade and the Girls’ Brigade and then serving supper afterwards. She was also a member of Orangefield Presbyterian Seniors. In all of these groups she was a willing hand, always ready to help in any way.
She made countless numbers of cups of tea and endless numbers of egg sandwiches - all in support of others, particularly at the times of funerals. The list of her support of the church was enormous. I know the members of the PW are saddened not to be able to do the tea for Molly today, but such is the cruelty of the situation we are in. We all have Molly stories and no more so than the family. Today Molly’s legacy lives on in the lives of her family members, but also in the lives of the many people she shared her life and love with. Her sheer zest for life was infectious and we ALL thought we would have the joy of sharing in her 100th birthday, but the Lord knew better.
Today, we are very conscious that only the half has been told and we remember, with much thanksgiving, the life of Molly Blair - daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and sister in the Lord.