Mr Laurie Ritchie

MR Laurie Ritchie, of Saul Street, who died on December 20 at the age of 86, was one of the great shopkeepers of Downpatrick and will be sorely missed.

A workaholic, he opened his shop at the top of Saul Street seven days a week, the first customers arriving shortly after 7am and the last leaving well after normal closing time. Smartly dressed in a shirt and tie with a white shop coat, he was an ever present figure behind the counter, having first filled up and lit the paraffin heaters and ensured that the shelves were well stocked.

It was an old fashioned general shop where old fashioned values held sway. Few, if any, were turned away. Those who were unable to pay were given generous credit terms on the trust that they would pay at the end of the month, which they unfailingly did.

Originally from Moneybot, Saul, Mr Ritchie was the son of a farmer, but never farmed. He started his career in the shop working for Miss Eileen Murphy. Theirs was to be a lasting partnership, with Mr Ritchie taking over the running of the business and expanding it in many directions.

What began as a grocer’s shop soon diversified into clothing, shoes, toys and much more besides. In fact, there was very little you couldn’t buy. Children queued up to get their sweets before going to school and then queued up again to get more at the end of the school day.

His enthusiasm for pigeon racing meant that the shop became a kind of Mecca for pigeon fanciers to meet and exchange stories. Customers gathered to have a chat, exchange local news and engage in a little harmless gossip.

Throughout his career, Mr Ritchie was supported by his beloved wife, Ellen (Anne), to whom he was devoted. The couple married on Easter Monday 1967 and were to be blessed with three daughters — Jacqueline, Susanne and Jennifer.

He was also supported by a loyal staff, including Mrs Mary Ritchie, who was his longest serving staff member, and young people who were relished the opportunity to earn some money after school or during the holidays.

He believed in giving people a chance and was a great supporter of the Downpatrick business community, trying where possible to get his goods from local suppliers.

As a young man he played and watched Gaelic football — he was an avid supporter of the Down team — and later kept pigeons.

He loved animals, particularly dogs, and over the years he had a number of guard dogs which meant the world to him.

In his well-earned retirement he was able to devote himself to other pursuits, such as gardening and travel.

He particularly enjoyed travelling to Spain to visit Jacqueline, his son-in-law, Duncan, and granddaughters Sophie and Emily, whom he adored.

Mr Ritchie was quiet, shy and hard-working man whose generous and charitable nature made him many friends over his lifetime.

At the largely attended funeral service in St Patrick’s Church, Saul, on December 23, which was conducted by the Very Rev Fr Paul Alexander, PP, there was a special tribute from Fr John Denvir SMA, Cork, who grew up on the Bull’s Eye Road and worked in Mr Ritchie’s shop before entering the priesthood.

Fr Denvir said Mr Ritchie was a “well known, loved and respected member of the community” and that many would be grateful for his “contribution to the life and cohesion of the locality.”

The sympathy of the community is extended to his family.