Community mourns passing of local musician and sportsman Willis Cairns

Shaun Oneill


Shaun Oneill


THE funeral took place last Thursday of Harryville man Willis Cairns.

The former Director of Music at Connor Presbyterian Church passed away on Tuesday, January 19. He was 80-years-old.

At his funeral service Minister, Rev. Eddie Chestnutt, of Harryville Presbyterian Church, recalled the life of Willis.

“Willis will be sadly missed by his loving family and by his Church family in Harryville,” said Rev. Chestnutt.

“But it brings us great comfort to know that he is absent from the body but present with the Lord. Paula describes the Willis we all knew in this way: he was small in stature but big in attitude. We give thanks to God for the life of Mr Willis Cairns.”

In the tribute the Minister outlined that Willis was born on October 10, 1940 - the first child born to John and Molly Cairns.

He was later joined by a younger brother, David.

The family lived on Casement Street but later moved to the Moat Road. Willis’ final home was in Meadowvale.

Willis attended Harryville Primary School before moving on to secondary school. He left school at the age of 15.

Rev. Chestnutt outlined that the Cairns family belonged to Harryville Presbyterian Congregation.

They were regular in attendance at worship and other activities.

“The Boys Brigade was particularly important to Willis. As a boy he attended faithfully, making friendships that would last a lifetime. He also went on to serve as an officer in the Company,” said the Minister.

When Willis was aged about 24 or 25 his father passed away.

After David got married, Willis continued to live with his mother and care for her until her death in 2001.

Over the years, Willis had a number of different jobs.

He worked in Britons Shoe Factory, Jimmy Moore’s Sweetshop and Gallahers.

“But his career was really in telecommunications. He worked as a switchboard operator in the Massereene Hospital and later in Antrim Hospital before moving to British Telecom. He stayed with BT right up until his retirement,” said Rev. Brown.

The Minister said Willis was a wonderful uncle to Wendy, Paula and Lesley.

“He was responsible for teaching the girls to drive, offering them advice such as give it a bit of juice and put the foot down,” said Mr. Chestnutt.

“He was also a much-loved great uncle to Erin, Ellie, Robbie and Carter. The members of the family have many precious memories of happy times with Willis – especially of Christmases when he would come to Newtownards.”

Aside from his family, music was Willis’ other great passion in life.

He served as organist in First Broughshane Congregation before moving to Connor.

For over 30 years he served as director of music in Connor.

At different times he also helped out with music in Ballykeel and in the Congregation in Harryville.

Just for fun he also played at the afternoon fellowship in the Elim.

Over the years, Willis also played at many weddings and funerals.

His love for music has been passed on to his great-nephews and nieces.

The Minister said Willis had many interests:

He played hockey for Ballymena Hockey Club and is remembered as “a terrier down the right wing.”.

He continued playing hockey right up into his late 30’s.

Willis loved to travel and even into his later years was still going on holiday.

He enjoyed trips to places like Tunisia, Portugal, Malta, America and South Africa.

“When he retired, he took a round-the-world trip and was away for up to four months,” said Rev. Chestnutt.

The Minister said Willis liked to garden and if it was a good day he also liked to work on his tan!

He had a sweet tooth and enjoyed a visit to Sweets and Treats for an apple tart, cake or some buns.

“Even when he wasn’t keeping so well he still liked to take the bus up the town on a Saturday,” said the Minister.

Rev. Chestnutt told the mourners that they had gathered to give thanks for the life of Willis.

“We’ve gathered here to worship the Lord who is the Creator and Giver of the gift of that life. We’ve gathered here to encourage one another at this time of loss,” he said.

“And on this sad day we have perhaps seen signs of the impact of that loss: Maybe you have seen eyes filled with tears; Maybe you have seen hankies wiping faces; Maybe you have seen family and friends – people you haven’t seen for a while, gathered solemnly together.”

He continued - “And as you sit there and look towards the front of this building you see a coffin. As you look towards the front you see an object that speaks of sorrow, loss and death.

“But let me ask you this question: “Is this all that you see?” Is sorrow, loss and death all that you see or do you see something else? Is sorrow, loss and death all that you see or do you see something more? Behind your experience of sorrow, loss and death is there anything further?”

The Minister read from 2 Corinthians 4 and in verse 18 the Apostle Paul writes this: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

“Paul challenges all of us to take a second look. He challenges us to see a different reality. He challenges us to fix our gaze on something other than what is immediately apparent. Paul says that what we can see with our eyes is actually short-term,” said the Minister.

“He says that what we can see with our eyes won’t last – that it is temporary. And in contrast, he says that there is a whole other reality. He says that there is another reality that cannot be seen with the eyes but which is real nonetheless. This alternative reality is enduring. This alternative reality is eternal and it will never, ever end.”

Rev. Chestnutt asked - “What do you see today? Do you see tears, handkerchiefs; a coffin? Sorrow, loss and death – is that all you see?

“Oh dear people there is more, much more if you will only look! There is a Saviour who has lived and who has died. There is a Saviour who has risen and who lives forever more. Today He is seated at the Father’s right hand and He is speaking to you and He is giving you this command and this assurance - ‘Look to me’ he says: ‘Look to me and be saved.’ ‘Look to me and know that beyond sorrow, loss and death there is joy, life and peace’. ‘Look to me for life that is even stronger than death’.”

Rev. Chestnuff concluded - “Dear people, what do you see today? Do you see Christ?”

* The Ciarns family would like to thank those who, over the years, helped to care for and support Willis: His social worker Holly; His GP’s Dr McQuillan and Dr Johnston; The carers who came into his home every day; Albert and Noelle; Davy and Jean; The staff of Antrim Area Hospital; And finally the staff of Rosedale Residential Home, Antrim.

Well known sports presenter Jackie Fullerton knew Willis from his time in the Boy’s Brigade.

“Willis was one of the Officers and I have many fond memories of him, and my time in the BB,” said Harryville man Jackie.

“We had some great times at the annual BB camp in the Isle of Man.”

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