A big man with a big heart

Report to follow
Report to follow

PORTRUSH Lifeboat crew, fundraisers and crews from flanking stations sailed into Portrush Yacht Club on Thursday to bid farewell to the first coxswain Willie McAuley.

Willie has been on crew for 27 years and is the embodiment of a good volunteer crew member within the RNLI.

He joined Portrush on February 13, 1985 and the following year became emergency mechanic, a post he held until 1993.

In that same year he became second Cox and eventually in 2002 became coxswain.

Willie has been involved in many call-outs from Portrush, including the famous once immortalised by Ian Watson’s picture of the Lifeboat heading out in a stormy February night.

The boat set out on February 13, 1989 at 4pm to reports of a Spanish fishing vessel aground at Swilly.

The boat couldn’t get back to Harbour on that night - but that’s what being an RNLI volunteer is all about, to go out to save lives without much thought to your own and that’s what Willie did on countless occasions.

Willie was also involved in saving the life of a German diver, as well as two schoolboys stranded in a cave at Downhill three years ago.

He has even been called on occasions to rescue the Lifeboat Operations Manager!

Twenty-seven years is a lifetime, in any sense of the word and especially to some of our new crew members who haven’t even reached that age and it was good to see so many of the young crew turning out pay respect to an experienced station member and mentor to many crew who have come up through the ranks.

Not only a mentor but a good friend to all crew, operations team and fundraisers Robin Cardwell, Lifeboat Operations Manager, told the audience: “Willie is a man of few words but when he does say something it is worth listening to.”

Willie’s partner Sara, proud mother Peggy, brother, Paul, sister in law, daughter Lorna were all present to hear the many tributes paid by many to the ‘Big Man’.

Representatives from Larne, Lough Swilly and Red Bay Lifeboat Stations also hailed the retiring coxswain and the speeches concluded with James Heaney, Chair of the Lifeboat Management group, paying his own tribute and Des Austin new Coxswain, speaking on behalf of the crew.

Willie will certainly be missed and he concluded the evening by thanking everyone for their friendship and congratulating Des on his promotion.