Obituary: Joy Rolston, pioneering Armagh journalist

Long career on local titles included providing expert reporting during the Troubles

Joy Rolston

Joy Rolston

 

Joy Rolston was a pioneer for women in journalism in the North. As a teenager she was determined to be a reporter, and joined the Portadown Times in her home town in 1954. At the time there were few women journalists in the North’s country towns. As she became older, she was a great mentor to young women journalists as they came into the industry in significant numbers.

For many years, she ran a news agency in Armagh city. This meant covering much of the Troubles in that area. Her local knowledge made her the prime contact there for Irish and British media. She could be depended on to file as much detail as needed, no matter what time of day or night. This was helped by her excelling at shorthand and always being determined to get the story.

Earlier, she had been editor of the Armagh Guardian, when women editors were rare. She made this into a cross-community weekly paper in the difficult circumstances of 1970s Armagh, then a sharply divided city. When the paper went to press she always took the staff for lunch and a drink in what was then the height of exotic sophistication in Armagh, a newly-opened wine bar.

On a personal level, she was irreverent and funny. She accepted her nickname of “Miss Hairdo”, as her blonde curly hair was always in an immaculate beehive. She was always in heels, to boost her diminutive height. Proud of her roots and community, she also took pride in slaughtering the sacred cows of traditional rural unionism.

Joy Somerville was born in Portadown, only daughter of Robert Somerville, a grocer, and his wife Emily. After the Portadown Times, journalism took her to the Mid-Ulster Mail in Cookstown, Co Tyrone; the Ulster Gazette in Armagh; and the Armagh Guardian. Marriage to a local man rooted her in Armagh city.

There she was a supporter of the arts, donating a cup to the speech and drama festival. She was also a cricket supporter, serving on the cricket club’s committee.

She only retired quite recently. Despite being flamboyant, she had a deeply private side. She left instructions that her date of birth was not to be published after her death.

She was predeceased by her husband John.

Joy Rolston: died September 17th, 2017