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Northern Ireland

Search and rescue group member Uel Hamilto dedicated his life to volunteering


True gentleman: Uel Hamilton
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Tributes have been paid to the longest serving member of Foyle Search and Rescue, who has died after dedicating 22 years of his life to the Londonderry charity.

Friends and family of Uel Hamilton (72) have described the Derry man as "a true gentle person with a heart of gold" with a "subtle yet infectious dedication" to his community.

Mr Hamilton died on Saturday after a six-year battle with cancer.

Since his passing, social media has been inundated with tributes from current and ex-volunteers.

The husband and father-of-two first got involved with Foyle Search and Rescue in 1996 and was also one of the founding members of the North West Mountain Rescue Team (NWMR). He later became the charity's president.

Leading the tributes to the "true gentleman" was Mr Hamilton's daughter Lisa.

She told the Belfast Telegraph of her father's modest nature.

"I was never really scared about my father going out on rescues," she said. "I probably didn't really know what was going on at the time.

"I remember when North West Mountain Rescue were on a mission outside Dungiven where a cow was stuck in a gorge and an RAF helicopter had to come and help rescue the cow. I think my father made the news that night."

At the charity's gala dinner in June, Mr Hamilton was given a special recognition award for his years of service.

Although he was too ill to attend the event at the Everglades Hotel, Lisa said he was "chuffed" to find out he was to be honoured.

"He was very emotional at the time," Lisa said.

"The summer hadn't been quite the easiest for him. He had been sick since May. It was a bittersweet kind of moment, but he was still chuffed to be the longest-serving member."

The accolade from Foyle Search and Rescue wasn't the first time Mr Hamilton had received recognition for his charitable services.

Five years ago, Mr Hamilton had a building belonging to NWMR dedicated to him.

Hamilton House is used by the rescue charity for equipment storage.

"The Mountain Rescue were unveiling a plaque at the house," his proud daughter added.

"He was very emotional when the plaque was unveiled, that someone would actually do something like that for him.

"He never expected anything in return."

In a touching tribute to his co-volunteer, chairman of Foyle Search and Rescue Stephen Twells said: "Uel was a true gentleman, a man who dedicated most of his adult life to volunteering in his community.

"He is a character who will be sorely missed by all of us who had the pleasure of knowing and volunteering with him."

A spokesperson for NWMR said the charity was "deeply saddened" by Mr Hamilton's death.

Last week, it was revealed that Foyle Search and Rescue, which has been operating since 1993, dealt with 60 incidents during July, with 11 people being rescued from the River Foyle.

Some 22 people were brought back from railings on bridges and the river's edge while 26 people found in distress were taken to a place of safety. The body of one person who died in the water was recovered.

Mr Hamilton's funeral will take place today at 2pm at Kilfennan Presbyterian Church.

Belfast Telegraph

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True gentleman: Uel Hamilton