- I thought he was ancient. It was 1989, I was 22, he was 45.
Maybe the grey which was already showing in his beard threw me off - but largely it was the callowness of youth on my part. In fact, he was just 72 when he died this month, and that seems far too young.
You can read elsewhere tributes to this man as a master of creating engaging radio programmes and reports. How he loved fly fishing, was a leader of the Country and Western music scene and an expert fiddler.
I remember hosting a party for him when his Radio Ulster show Country Club was axed. We were ready for him by 10pm. He turned up at 2am. With a fiddle. Ready to sing. Alongside his rich-voiced wife Brenda. Until the daylight dawned.
Many of the tributes to Paddy have concentrated on his folksy side. But Paddy reported from the heart of the darkest episodes of Northern Ireland’s history. I asked him why he always called Brenda before driving home to North Belfast - even disturbing her at one or two in the morning with the call.
“In case I don’t make it, Tim”, he said.
Affable and light-hearted, Paddy was stubborn too and possessed a core of iron.
And a dark sense of humour. Which we honestly all needed.
So to a couple of tales which show the quality of the man. But stories which are unpleasant in the telling.
The recording below, in particular, is traumatic. But I wonder if somehow the hard facts of the past are too easily glossed over too, in remembrance.
I was output editor for an edition of Good Morning Ulster in January 1992 as I recall, with Paddy beside me, when an explosion shook us from literally around the corner. About 300 metres away.
Paddy leapt up, grabbed his bulky reel-to-reel tape recorder and headed towards the shrieking alarms. He found shocked but largely un-hurt people being herded away from the scene by the police, or kept inside premises there : like Larry’s Piano Bar.
From memory, Larry’s wife had been sitting in her car outside the bar. She had just turned the ignition when the blast went off. She’d thought her own car had been blown up.
Paddy joined her as she was shepherded into the restaurant, in case there was a second device. There was…
Newer technology was coming in, but it was still relatively rare to capture a recording of an explosion.
Paddy did. And caught the raw horror of ordinary people caught up in terrifying events…
I was also editing late another night, when we got a call accompanied by an IRA codeword, which informed us that the body of an informer had been dumped on the border. The security forces would wait until daylight so they could see any booby-trap devices more easily. And decide on jurisdiction. Often the bodies would be left straddling the frontier with the Irish Republic.
Paddy didn’t hesitate of course, and was back in three hours with a description of the corpse : tied up, tape across the eyes and ears, and a mouth stuffed with cloth. Symbolic.
The body was at the foot of a hedge running along a quiet country lane. The night was cold, cloudy and pitch dark. The body lay across the sort of tray bakers put a batch of loaves on. Wires protruded.
Telling me this, Paddy’s face now took on a mischievous grin, despite the horror. “I was close, Tim. About a couple of feet away. Nothing around me. Not a sound. But then : something. A sigh! Breathing! Dear God, Tim, the man was alive - but I was almost dead from fright!”
He paused, and then went on : “It was then I noticed a movement through the hedge. A black figure. And another sigh. And then I realised what it was… It was a bloody cow, Tim!”
Journalists have a habit of turning tragedy into entertainment, so having committed the sin, I will continue. This time in connection with another splendid man who died this year...
His name is Roy McHardy - a man resembling a black coated, fierce, Scottish Terrier.
A TV reporter turned journalists’ union rep, he fought tremendous battles on the behalf of victimised journalists, and he mostly won too.
He also had hollow legs, and a fondness for rum and coke - which led to his nickname Roy Barcardi.
I was taking my evening break, again editing GMU, with Roy in the BBC Belfast Club, when an electric blue flash lit up the ceiling. A vast bang and sustained rumble followed. “See you later, Roy”, I said, “Looks like my running-order has changed.”
Indeed my whole programme would now be about a three thousand pound bomb which had been detonated outside the RUC’s Forensic Science Lab, south of the city. Dozens of cases against paramilitary groups would now be compromised as evidence had gone up in smoke. Dozens of families in a nearby housing estate would be homeless for a while.
But shortly before closing time in the Club, Roy rang my extension, one among lots of enquiries, but much more simple : “Are you coming back to finish your pint?”
Unshakable, both Roy - who helped so many over the years, with little formal thanks for it - and Paddy, who is loved and missed too.
Many thanks to Martin Nelson for his superb shot at the top of this piece.
And to Graham Perry for Roy's photo - provided by Noel McCartney.