Duke of Edinburgh Award success was a real family affair for Vicar of Antrim

“MY Dad, Donald McBride and I were the first father and son to be awarded the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award,” writes the Venerable Dr Stephen McBride, Archdeacon of Connor and Vicar of All Saints Parish in Antrim.

“My Dad completed his award in 1960 through the 72nd Boys’ Brigade company that belonged to St Mary’s Parish on the Crumlin Road.

“The air ticket for my Dad, Granny and Granda cost £24.

“The award scheme began in 1956 and my dad was an early recipient of the Gold Award.

“My Dad encouraged me to complete my Gold award with the hope that perhaps we might be the first father and son.

“I did most of my work for the Gold through completing the disciplines necessary for gaining my Queen’s Badge in the 118th Belfast BB Company which belonged to Holy Trinity Parish in north Belfast.

“I gained my Gold award in 1979 through the Scout Troup attached to Inst (RBAI) under the leadership of the late Ronnie Hiscocks.

“The school scout troop had an excellent tradition in helping pupils gain their awards and enabled me to complete the expedition section.

“ I went to Buckingham Palace in 1981 (Rev McBride is pictured with his father and Prince Philip, left) with three other pupils who had also gained their gold awards.

“My Dad and I were the first father and son to gain the award and at the palace we had a short meeting with Duke and had this memorable photograph taken.

“My memory of the day was one of awe in getting the opportunity of meeting the Duke in person, even if it was for such a short period of time.

“My son Alex completed his Gold award through Antrim Grammar school.

“My dad, Alex and I went to Kensington Palace in February 2016 (see picture, bottom right).

“Even though we just missed out on being the first grandfather, father and son to gain the award (I think we were the second set of triple award winners) we were presented to the Duke but on this occasion didn’t get our photograph taken with him.

“However, it was such a memorable occasion to have another opportunity to meet him.

“On this occasion, I was so impressed at how a man who was 94 was blessed with such energy.

“He did his best to engage with every recipient in the room and make them feel so special.

“In the autumn of 1997 my dad and I, because we were the first father and son recipients, received invitations from The Prime Minister and Mrs Blair to attend Luncheon at The Banqueting House, Whitehall on Thursday 20 November in celebration of the Golden Wedding of Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.

“There were around three hundred people in attendance from many walks of life at the dinner.

“Linford Christie, Cliff Richard, Maggie Smith, Shirley Bassey and the Archbishop of Canterbury were a few of the celebrities I spotted.

“My Dad had a one-to-one conversation with Margaret Thatcher for over ten minutes.

“The Secretary to the Cabinet Office was at my Dad’s table and he gave us a guided tour of 10 Downing Street after the dinner.

“During her speech at the dinner, the Queen memorably said of Prince Philip, ‘He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.’

“The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme has been invaluable in the life formation of many young people over the past sixty five years.

“Through its various sections, it encourages you to develop personal skills for example through the playing of a musical instrument, to engage in a sporting activity and to look beyond yourself and participate in some form of community service.

“Of all the many areas of life, perhaps the most important factor of the award is developing a sense of perseverance.

“I will never forget my expedition on the north Antrim hills on a very wet and windy trek in late October 1979.

“In those days, camping equipment was much more basic that today’s light weight tents and waterproofing was almost non existent, but there was a great sense of achievement in completing the task.

“One of the Duke’s many pioneering developments was St George’s House in Windsor.

“He saw it as a place where people from many different areas of life who ordinarily may not have met together could meet in confidential surroundings to listen and exchange views.

“It has been a haven which has provided a backdrop that has managed to diffuse difficult situations when people of opposing opinions have been able to meet in person and hear viewpoints which would have been very different to the ones they held to.

“I had the opportunity to attend two meetings in St George’s and they were transformative in my ministry and life and feel honoured to have been chosen to attend them.

“The Duke has been paid many, many compliments over the years for his service and commitment to a great variety of causes.

“The photomontages of him and tributes that have been broadcast over recent days reveal a person who lived his life to the fullest and encouraged those around him to take risks and live life on the edge where possible.

“He has led by example and in everything he was connected with, he gave of himself to the fullest.

“The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme was far ahead of its time in 1956 and its success is to be seen in its thriving sixty five years later.

“Of the many legacies that the Duke has given his name to during his life, this is surely one of the most enduring in that it is open to every young adult to participate in throughout the Commonwealth.

“Donald said it certainly helped Jim obtain his post in Orangefield Boys’ School in the early 1960s, which was one of the most prestigious secondary schools in Belfast at that time.

“The headmaster, John Malone had recently introduced the scheme in the school and was very keen to have a staff member who had gained the award.

“So in having the Gold Award, it was seen as an important element in his CV.

“Alex, a P7 teacher in Antrim Primary School, said of his participation in the award scheme, ‘it has given me many life skills which have helped me in the development of my career’.”

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