Where do I start to tell you about Isa McComb MBE and her involvement with those who have learning disabilities?
I met Isa in 1975 after coming out to work during the summer at James’s steel business. I soon found out that Isa McComb was an amazing woman. They broke the mould when they made her. I became involved with Ballymoney Gateway Club as a helper and later became leader.
I enjoyed helping with the twins, Robert and David when they were born in 1975. They were always well turned out; Valerie, Mandy and Christine always had the best and Isa made sure they looked beautiful, especially on a special day out. The girls were always immaculate. Junior was always bought comfortable well fitting shoes. His pullovers, trousers etc. were always the best quality.
When Junior and I headed off to see the motorbikes there was always enough food to feed an army. I can picture Isa yet as she saw us off in her dressing gown. We used to leave around half past 7 for the Ulster Grand Prix. I was always warned to take care. After the introduction of mobile phones we rang her on arrival at the course to let her know we were safe. Every Gateway night she brought in the tuck shop crisps and minerals, as well as tea and coffee for the helpers.
I asked Steven McGuigan what I should say about Isa and his answer sums her up. Steven said, “She helped us all at Gateway and she was very kind.” She had a great love for those with learning disabilities and was loved by both members and leaders.
She was a great mother to her children, Valerie, Christine, Mandy, Junior, Robert and David. She was also a wonderful wife to James. She not only looked after her own family but had time to look after June Tweed, Iris McFetridge, Trevor Purden and my friend Girvan Hickinson.
Many week-ends there were additional members to her extended family. James would think nothing of arriving back with a total stranger to the house and asking Isa to put the person up for the evening. I’m sure her head was turned as she heard continually, Isa, Isa get me such and such, Isa I want this, Isa a cup of tea and that was only James. Robert and I were talking about Isa and the thing which kept her going was her strong will to look after her family putting other things to the side.
She was generous to a fault. Many times she would reach into her purse if some of our members were lacking in readies particularly on a shopping outing. She was good at reading a person’s character and could tell if someone was suited to working with our members.
At Gateway I always listened to her advice. She knew those with learning disabilities and their needs better than anyone. She supported me as leader of Gateway 120% and more. If I was unsure about doing some particular activity Isa was always the one who knew best what to do.
There were things I left in her hands and I knew they would be done. She had a good memory and remembered all the little details which needed attending to. As treasurer in recent years she could have taught the Chancellor of the Exchequer a lot. We always ended up in credit. When she received her MBE she received it graciously, almost asking why she should have got it. It didn’t make her big headed. She wasn’t that type.
I felt and I know all our helpers felt the same, if she asked me to do something there was no way I could say “No.” She did so much herself. I used to enjoy those special times when we had time to talk alone. She taught me so much about life. She gave me good advice when I needed it. She was so kind, so thoughtful, as I’ve said before an amazing person.
We were recently looking at a video of 30th Anniversary of Gateway Club. Mrs Black, Mrs Lerwill, Mrs McFetridge and Isa were the founders of Ballymoney Gateway.
Isa and Junior were both there looking well as Mrs Lerwill cut the cake and we sang Happy Birthday to Gateway. Isa and I talked after Junior’s death and she found it so difficult to come to terms with Junior’s illness and subsequent death. She just couldn’t take it in that he was no longer there. I find her passing just as impossible to take in. I’m beginning to understand why Junior was taken before her.
How could he have coped without Isa? We will all miss her. Pray for her family, her family circle and for Ballymoney Independent Gateway Club as we all come to terms with our loss. Isa McComb is irreplaceable. She was one of a kind. She has run the race and won. Stanley Lee. Leader of Ballymoney Independent Gateway Club.