When a young 19-year-old left his native Ireland 70 years ago to follow his dreams with a one month journalist trial on a Petersfield newspaper, few might have predicted the lasting impact it would have on him or the area of West Sussex he would make his home.
Inevitably, coming from Ireland, he brought with him a passion for music, literature and poetry; a keenness to engage with everyone he met and a love of roaming which he played out over a lifetime of walking; particularly on his beloved South Downs.
Paddy Welsh was born in Belfast in 1930 and grew up in the nearby town of Carrickfergus with its imposing 12th Century castle looking out over Belfast Lough.
With his heart set on becoming a journalist, he left Ireland with just a five pound note from his Mum for emergencies and set off for West Sussex and the Hants and Sussex News, the one paper where he had managed to secure a trial to become a journalist.
Paddy quickly made a name for himself as a keen young reporter and set about learning the tools of his trade, which included his life-long love of shorthand with which, after much practice, he became able to record the words of even the fastest speakers.
Indeed, taking pleasure in this form of writing throughout his life, even his shopping lists were written in shorthand and every Christmas he would
return enthusiastically to re-read the shorthand edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens.
After a successful period working in Petersfield, Paddy secured a role as sports reporter at the Chichester Observer, moving to the city which would become his home for the next 70 years.
It was when reporting from Goodwood race track in 1950 that he first met his life time companion, Ann, whose father, also a local journalist, had provided her with entry to the press area.
But it was not until he met Ann again at the following weekend’s dance at Kimbles ballroom in North Street that he summoned up the courage to ask her for the first waltz.
Paddy and Ann married on the 21 st March 1952 at the Congregation Church in South Street.
When leaving for their honeymoon in Scotland and Northern Ireland, they were surprised to be met at Chichester railway station by the train from Portsmouth with a carriage ‘reserved’ for them.
In a unique send-off, the windows had been entirely covered with news pages by Paddy’s journalist colleagues at the Observer’s sister paper in Portsmouth.
Paddy was also a proud family man and it was during this period that Ann gave birth to sons John (1955), Nick (1957), Patrick (1965) and daughter Jo (1967).
This was also a time when Paddy fell in love with Lancia cars, long before buying and owning overseas car brands became widely popular.
Even travelling to Italy to pick them up, he could often be seen driving various Lancia models around Chichester and his beloved South Downs, often with the family in tow for a country walk.
After 20 years as a local journalist in Chichester, and more latterly providing freelance copy for the wider media including the London nationals, Paddy took the bold step to join the West Sussex County Council as its first public relations officer in the early 70s.
Using many of the key skills he honed as a journalist, Paddy set about communicating the wide and varied services provided by the local council.
During this period he became chairman of the Society of County Public Relations Officers and served on the local radio council of Radio Solent.
He was also chairman for three years of the Local Review Committee of Ford Open Prison which deals with the parole of prisoners.
He served the committee for ten years in an unpaid voluntary capacity.
In 1980, a defining opportunity arose for Paddy to combine his lifelong interest in walking with his public relations role at the council.
The Ramblers Association had a special anniversary to celebrate and the South Downs Way had just been designated as a long distance path - running from
Eastbourne to Buriton (later to be extended through to Winchester).
When considering how to mark these events - and help introduce more people to the joys of walking - Paddy and his colleague John Godfrey came up with the idea of running a public walk.
It would cover the entire length of the South Downs Way route and use buses to transfer walkers daily to their start point and pick them up from their finish point.
Paddy led the first outing in 1980 which saw 62 intrepid walkers and their associated pets cover over 80 miles in a week.
So successful was this formula for leading long distance public walks, and so high the demand for it became, that Paddy happily found himself leading an ever growing group of walkers annually along an extended South Downs Way route for the next 20 years.
So great were the numbers that most years they required at least three full double decker buses to ferry the walkers each day.
Throughout his life Paddy - along with a close group of walking friends - had covered just about every long distance path in the UK.
In addition, he was a regular contributor of walks for the local papers including the Evening Argus Weekender section every Saturday.
Indeed, collections of these local walks were published by Westminster Press in a series of ‘Sussex Walks’ booklets, made available locally.
After 10 years with the West Sussex County Council, Paddy transferred to Southern Water in 1983 where he was appointed Head of Public Relations, managing the media and communications through the organisation’s subsequent change from the public sector to private regulated company.
He was also instrumental in driving forward the company’s ongoing connection with WaterAid and raising awareness of the life-saving work done by the charity around the world.
Paddy retired in 1990 and used the next three decades to focus strongly on his many and wide ranging interests which included spending more time participating in various clubs around Chichester.
He had always been a keen member of Round Table, the Rotary Club and the 41 Club.
He was also a founder member of the Chichester Local History Society and an active member of the Keats Club, the Local Archaeology Society, Cogent and the Chichester Bee-Keepers Association, to name a few.
In his earlier years he was a founder member of the Chichester Lawn Tennis and Squash Club, playing squash regularly until he was well past 60.
More latterly he was a keen snooker player and long term member of the City Club and previously the Regnum Club.
He also travelled widely with his wife Ann.
As his retirement broadly coincided with the opening of Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin wall, Paddy and Ann embarked on a series of holidays - that would take them many years - to see every former Eastern Block country before too much change had taken place following Western European influences.
They also travelled further afield visiting China and the Far East - and Paddy spent a very enjoyable week sailing as part of a volunteer crew on the Sir Winston Churchill sail training ship, a three-masted schooner, in the seas around the Canary Isles.
Paddy passed away peacefully at home on Sunday 10th November 2019, surrounded by his family.
He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years previously.
He leaves behind his beloved wife Ann, his three sons and one daughter, eight grandchildren and one great grandson who he met for the first time and was able to hold earlier in the summer.
A memorial service will be held for Paddy at Christ Church in Chichester on Wednesday, 4th December at 2.15 pm.
Family flowers only. Donations welcome to Alzheimer’s Research UK and WaterAid.