Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Richard J M Elliott

Mowbray (“Mo”) was born in Kilkenny on 25th September 1919. His father was an Agent with the Bank of Ireland, and early life saw the family moving around as his father's job required, eventually arriving in Portadown. It was here that he first met Nora Kelly who was then just 8 years old (he was 11). Subsequently, his parents retired to Bangor, Co. Down, where they set up house right next door to the Kelly family. Friendship turned into romance, and Mowbray really did end up marrying the girl next door, in 1948, a marriage which lasted for 62 years. For most of their married life, Mowbray and Nora lived opposite Cabin Hill on the Upper Newtownards Road, which was rather convenient as their six sons were to follow him into his old school of Campbell College by way of the preparatory school on their doorstep, as well as being close to Strathearn School which their daughter attended.

Mowbray enjoyed his time at Campbell College; as an only child, he found the collegiate life conducive and stimulating. Family photographs show him in swimming and rugby teams, and in full regalia as a member of the pipe band. A slightly surprising photograph shows him as a member of what was probably called a “Swing” band, holding a saxophone; not an instrument he was heard to talk about much in later life. He was, however, more of a scientist than an artist, demonstrating a particular strength in the subject of Physics, and so when he entered Queens' it was to read Electrical Engineering. The Second World War intervened to delay proceedings, and on graduating he remained at the University lecturing on communications to members of the Armed Services, before joining the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1944 as an engineer. A contract dated December 1949 shows his annual salary as £489!

He remained with the BBC for the rest of his formal working life. This was a very exciting time to be involved in broadcasting as television returned after the War, spread throughout the UK, and then, of course, went into colour and global. He progressed well and had a very rewarding career, reaching the senior management post of Head of Programme Services and Engineering  (or “Chairman Mo” as his colleagues dubbed him). Mowbray was at this time involved in maintaining the integrity of the communications system infrastructure throughout the province, and, as we're talking here of the late 60s and 70s, the disturbances of the period provided quite a challenge. For some reason, he also seems to have been required to meet many high-profile figures from politics and entertainment, acting as the representative of the BBC. He regularly came into contact with the local politicians of the day, which particularly in those times must have been a fascinating experience. 

He left the BBC in 1979 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. However, this was not to be the end of his active life, indeed far from it. Nora was frequently heard to remark that she saw less of him after retirement than when he was “working”. Mowbray now started to play important roles in many voluntary organisations, serving the community both locally in East Belfast and nationally.

He was engaged in local politics throughout his retirement, through good times and bad. He was a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, and acted as election agent for them on many occasions.

Mowbray also played an active role in his local Church of Ireland Parish, St Columba’s, Knock:  he was at times a member of the select vestry.  For many years he spent the evening of the first Sunday in the month helping with the count of the church collection.

For over 20 years, he worked for the East Belfast Talking Newspaper for the Blind: throughout, as the person responsible for equipment maintenance and the quality of the tapes; then later also as editor and interviewer.  He was an office bearer for the Northern Ireland Talking Newspaper Committee involving liaison with Talking Newspapers throughout the United Kingdom.

From 1987 to 1991, Mowbray held the position of chairman of the Northern Ireland Central Council of the British Red Cross; this involved responsibility for the budget for the Northern Ireland Red Cross and regular liaison with representatives from other local branches.  He also undertook official representation at major events, including the 100th anniversary of the founding of the British Red Cross, on which occasion he was introduced to The Queen, a memory which he treasured for the rest of his life and was never slow to share given the slightest opportunity.

From the mid 1980s to early 1990s, he also held a committee post for the Connswater Conservation Scheme, which was responsible for reclaiming part of the disused railway line in East Belfast and reopening it as a walkway. Mowbray played a major role in the hiring of conservation volunteers to work on the scheme, making an important contribution to the Action for Community Employment (ACE) scheme, which was helping workers who had been made redundant retrain and get back to work.

Mowbray was an office bearer for the East Belfast Community Council, which became the East Belfast Development Agency.  He also participated regularly in collections for various charities, standing on street corners well into his mid-80s.

Mowbray was a very practical man. He was active in DIY right up to his last years. But he was also a people person, enjoyed socialising, and was the “life and soul of the party” with a seemingly interminable supply of entertaining anecdotes based on a rich reserve of work and personal experiences. Described by many as “the perfect gentleman”, there is no better tribute than that recorded by a colleague on his retirement from the BBC: “your great secret of always being a delightful person, even when enraged”. Although a colleague from his church collection counting sessions describes him as “keeping the troops in order”!

Although Mowbray maintained his involvement in community activities up to his 90th birthday in 2009, he was suffering from an increasing number of physical problems. He never really recovered from a fall at Christmas that year, and when his wife Nora died, from a stroke, in August 2010, it was not long before he had to move out of the family home into residential care. The end came in early December 2012 when he was finally overwhelmed by bronchial pneumonia. He is survived by his seven children – sons Michael, Christopher, Tony, Paul, Timothy and Simon, and daughter Gillian – and eleven grandchildren.




Back to list



Top of Page