Northern Catholic who was a war hero and Unionist MLA

John Gorman: February 1st, 1923 - May 26th, 2014

Sat, Jun 7, 2014, 02:00

Sir John Gorman, who has died aged 91, was a somewhat unusual figure in Northern Ireland politics and public life, coming from a family that was Catholic but staunchly unionist in politics.

He was the only Catholic to be a senior elected Unionist representative in the North since the second World War, representing the Ulster Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland Forum in 1996, then from 1998 to 2003 to the Northern Ireland Assembly. He chaired the forum, and was the Assembly’s deputy speaker.

He was a respected chair. When disorder erupted in the chamber he became slightly red in the face, gave the unruly offenders a headmasterly look over the top of his glasses – and was obeyed.

He had earlier been a war hero, winning the Military Cross for bravery in action during the invasion of Normandy.

John Reginald Gorman was born in February 1923 outside Omagh, Co Tyrone, the eldest of four children of Jack Gorman, an RUC district inspector, and his wife, Annette (née O’Brien), both Catholics, Munster natives, and unionists.

Gorman was educated at Loreto Convent, Omagh, Rockport School, Co Down, the Imperial Service College in Windsor, England and Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.

At 18 he joined the British army and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Irish Guards, landing in Normandy a fortnight after D-Day. He won the Military Cross by driving his tank straight down a hill, ramming a better-armoured German tank, and putting it out of action.

Gorman’s particular triumph was that his unit had captured intact one of the then state-of-the-art German Tiger tanks, which was sent back for detailed examination of its design. His exploits were later celebrated in the boys’ comic The Victor. Intelligence role After the war he followed his father into the RUC, entering as a district inspector. During the IRA campaign of the 1950s, he liaised with the authorities in the Republic in drawing up lists of suspects to be interned. He also carried out liaison between MI5 operating in the North and MI6 in the Republic.

With the IRA campaign over, he took on new challenges at the British Overseas Airline Corporation (now part of British Airways). There he was successively head of security, head of personnel, manager for the USA and manager India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. He refused the position of manager Southern Africa, because it would have meant fostering relations with white minority regimes.

As head of security at BOAC, he was attached to several major royal tours abroad, including a trip to Nepal, where, armed with a Webley revolver, he slept aboard the royal aircraft to prevent it being commandeered at a time when there were fears of a coup in the country. The queen made him a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).

After nearly 20 years, he returned to the North in 1979 as chief executive and deputy chairman (a combined post) of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. He was proud to have left a high quality housing stock on retirement.

He is survived by his widow, Heather, daughters Angela and Rosanagh, son Johnny, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son Justin.