by EDDIE McILWAINE
PHOTOGRAPHER Mervyn Dowling who has died at 67 was a real Star Man. He and his camera were a familiar sight around Lisburn in his years with the Ulster Star. And even after he departed to take up a position with the Belfast Telegraph passersby in the street referred to him as Our Star Man.
"With affection of course," says his widow Irene who lives off the Nettlehill Road. "Even on holidays the name stuck. We were in Tenerife and on the beach he was greeted by one bather as a Star."
But there was much more to this man Dowling who began his journalistic career as a part-timer with the Star before a spell running his father's painting and decorating business at Pond Park after which he returned full-time to his first love - photography.
"He was a special kind of human being," says Irene whom he met when they both worked at the Bank Buildings store in Belfast in 1961.
"I was 16 in the gown department and he was 17 in wholesale," she recalls. "It was love at first sight and we married two years later in 1963 when I was 18 and he was 19. Too young? Of course we weren't. Since our first meeting we had nearly 50 years together - half-a-century of real love."
Down the years Mervyn, apart from his talent as a newspaper man, turned out to be a caring man who was never happier than when he was giving things away to the needy.
One cold night on a trip to London he and Irene came on a tramp begging at a street corner. Mervyn went over to him, took off his warm overcoat and wrapped it around the man's shoulders as a gift.
"Of course I had to go out next morning and buy my husband a new coat," recalls Irene.
"That was the nature of Mervyn. He loved to help people, we were never rich, but he had this urge to give possessions away if they provided a little bit of pleasure for someone.
"At a charity auction he had a bid of £200 accepted for a pair of ornamental fighting cocks after one Guinness too many - he always enjoyed his Guinness - and next morning looked at me across the breakfast table and explained: "Sure Age Concern needs it more than we do."
We always told one another over the morning toast how lucky we were to be together for so long and to have been blessed by our three daughters Janice, Sandra and Allison and our five grandchildren.
"Mervyn believed in me, that I could achieve anything. He was happiest when I received awards as a regional organiser for Avon."
Mervyn Dowling was one of the five children of Lisburn painting contractor Frank Dowling and his wife Mary who is still alive at 92.
He realised early on that following in his father's footsteps into the decorating business wasn't for him and concentrated on his fascination with photography at one time printing photographs for Star customers at three old pence a time.
In 1985 Mervyn moved to the Belfast Telegraph from the Star where he had enjoyed so much success and found himself in the midst of the troubles at their height and witnessed the horror of the violence that was all around as he took dramatic pictures all over the province.
Mervyn and Irene had their own times of tension and worry during their married life. When he was only 34 Mervyn was struck down by cancer from which he made a slow but successful recovery. It made him thankful and conscious of others suffering from the disease. He used to tell them: "Look at me, I beat it - so can you."
"My husband loved the gift of life," says Irene. "He became chairman of a Multiple Sclerosis Society and went out of his way to meet and talk to patients.
"Then when daughter Janice and I were injured in a serious road accident
it was his strength that
pulled us through. "
Mervyn loved nothing better than his fishing trips with his photographer pals Roy Smyth and Rick Hewitt and he liked to watch rugby.
"We are all going to miss this caring and loveable man, including the grandchildren to whom he was an ever present father figure," declares Irene.
"He used to tell me that he had learned so much wisdom at the knee of his own grandfather Heaney that he wanted to fulfill a similar role with his own grandchildren and he definitely did so."