A former Ulster Unionist councillor, tragically killed when a vintage tractor he was driving toppled over onto him on Monday, was fiercely proud of his cross-community and cross-border work, his grieving wife has said.
66-year-old John Hanna, a former Banbridge councillor, was also well-known for his work with the famous July 13 Scarva ‘Sham Fight’ and he even introduced a cross-border dimension inviting guests up from the Republic of Ireland.
He retired from the council earlier this year after 22 years of service and two years ago he also retired from a varied successful career in which he worked in several fields and for well-known companies.
He had always split his time between the Banbridge district, the area he was originally from, and Ballintoy in north Antrim where his wife Joan is from.
However in recent times he was spending more time up at the north coast and in the past months got interested in vintage tractors and brought one up from Banbridge and was driving it on Monday afternoon near his home when it overturned in a one vehicle accident.
Mr Hanna’s wife, who sits as an Ulster Unionist councillor on Causeway Coast & Glens Council where she uses her maiden name Joan Baird, explained she was out on Monday afternoon when she learned of the heartbreaking developments.
She said: “It was a very big shock to me. I was at a funeral at Toberkeigh and had just left it and was driving to Bushmills to get a paper for my mother and somebody phoned me to come home at once.”
She said the exact circumstances of the accident are still unclear.
“For whatever reason, he was still on a straight part of the road, he had come up my mother’s lane and turned right and he was going straight on for a few hundred yards and the tractor seems to have caught the left-hand verge and that was probably enough to overturn it.
“Whether something had gone wrong with the tractor or whether he was trying something with a differential lock and if he maybe was putting that on that could have locked the wheels of the tractor, we don’t know.
“It is all speculation, nobody knows really why the tractor overturned and he was pinned below it and we believed he died immediately.”
She said she understood her husband was found by a postman and her neighbour, Church of Ireland minister Rev Patrick Barton, also arrived around the same time.
Joan said her husband had only recently become interested in vintage tractors and he decided to take part in the Ballintoy Vintage Tractor Rally and he brought the tractor involved in the accident down from Banbridge just a few weeks back on a trailer.
“On Monday he was driving it from the farmyard at my mother’s farm where he kept it in a shed and he was driving from her house up to our own house overlooking Whitepark Bay.”
Recalling his Council work, Joan said her husband had done a lot of work in the Banbridge area, particularly Scarva, where he helped the village win flower competitions and was associated with the famous July 13 ‘Sham Fight’ which he had turned into a festival and had helped secure grants.
“A few years ago he invited a number of people up from County Meath to the event and they had a great day. He was very strong on cross-border and cross-community co-operation and at his last election he got 400 SDLP votes and was very proud of that and although he was an Ulster Unionist he managed to get cross-community support which was very important to him.”
Looking back at a packed life, Joan said Mr Hanna was both an engineer and a physicist and had a degree from Queen’s University and a further degree in physics at Coleraine.
He worked for a firm in Larne and then Goodyear in Craigavon in research and development.
Said Joan: “He had to travel a lot with Goodyear and worked on various projects. One was developing flame-resistant belts for German coalminers and another time he went to a nuclear base in Scotland and found out there was a mistake in the machinery.
“He got a job in South Africa and and taught for a while in Lurgan Tech teaching physics, maths and engineering.
“He wasn’t too well for a while and give that up because it wasn’t really for him and then he worked for 12 years in medical physics in the cancer centre at the City Hospital and retired a few years ago.”
Turning to John’s Council work, Joan added: “He was elected to Banbridge Council as an Ulster Unionist and sat there for 22 years. He was big into cross-community and cross-border relations and he did a lot of work for the East Border Region and he and I travelled a lot to Brussels for meetings and he did quite well with that
“He chaired it at one stage and got the Commissioners to come to Ireland and they had a big conference in Dundalk. He was very pleased with that because it helped Ireland, the whole of Ireland.”
Joan wished to thank the public and her neighbours for their support and the kind tributes paid to her husband.
“I can’t believe the support I am getting here at home from my neighbours,” she said, and added the tributes paid to her husband were “very nice”.