“Live your life in such a thoughtful and honourable way, that when you or others look back on the landscape of life you will feel good, you will feel proud, of the footprints you have left behind.”
The poetic words of Nancye Sims could not have been more poignant as they were delivered at Tom Noble’s funeral last Friday by Adele Kerr, the principal of Erne Integrated Primary School.
Those inimitable footprints will be forever etched in Adele’s school corridors and every classroom in Erne Integrated College where the visionary teacher transformed education in Fermanagh. 
Mr. Noble’s sudden death from a heart attack over a week ago has left very many mourning the loss of a husband, father, grandfather, father in law, brother, uncle, friend, colleague, mentor, teacher, confidante, sports coach, life coach, fixer, adviser, campaigner and peace builder.
But his death has been felt the most by his loving family. His son Gareth spoke movingly about his “best friend” telling mourners at his funeral at Ballycassidy House that he was their hero.
“Daddy played multiple roles in his life and many of these roles overlapped. For his wife and children, we can add that he was an inspiration and a hero. There are no words that can ever adequately describe him, his life and his legacy. Indeed the person who could best capture these moments and these events was in fact him. The best communicator I have ever heard bar none.”
His father’s desire was for his children to be “the best that we can be”.
“That famous bird box I made in school which when you opened it up was so full of protruding nails that any poor bird that entered it was entering a death trap caused much sibling hilarity and mirth at the kitchen table. Daddy’s response was typical. ‘G you painted it beautifully’,” he smiled.
Gareth recalled the opening of the Integrated Primary School in 1989, the first school of its kind in County Fermanagh, and then the opening of his beloved Integrated College. 
“Even at that point we detected in him as he campaigned for its opening, an energy and a drive and an excitement that we were on the cusp of something very special. So when a similar group of parents later developed plans for the establishment of a second level school, he applied for the position of Principal. He accepted that job along with the seven founding teachers, even before the government had even fully sanctioned the opening of the school. 
“Our kitchen table became an unofficial focus group discussing school names, mottos, uniform colours and subject choices,” he said. 
In 1994 the school opened its doors to 60 pupils, including his very own Marie Claire, situated in temporary accommodation at Silverhill House. “He wept happy tears at the end of that first day.”
“This was a community based, community led education revolution. He wanted what was considered unnatural to become the norm – children being educated together irrespective of gender, religious or political or ethnic background or level of academic achievement. 
“Integration and the concept of a truly shared society was about making children and communities able to express themselves freely. Integration wasn’t about some forced, artificial social experiment. It had to be real, natural, child centered and based on the development of the young person. It wasn’t to be forced or shoved down other people’s throats,” he said.
He recounted a tale by a parent of a pupil recalling how she contacted Mr. Noble when he was principal as she was worried that her daughter wanted to dye her hair purple. 
“His response to this was that he didn’t mind if her hair was multi coloured, that she was expressing her individuality and that as long as she came to school and did her work he didn’t mind at all.”
Paula Butler, one of the seven founding teachers of the college, fondly remembered Mr. Noble telling mourners how he “championed the underdog and celebrated all students’ successes”.
“His wisdom, spirited generosity and willingness to give of his time sprung from a great faith in humanity and genuine desire to help. 
“One of a kind who was fascinated in and by people from each and every social strata and in all the quirks and foibles of the human race. 
“His glass was always half full and he saw strengths and talents in people that they didn’t see in themselves. He danced at our weddings, held our babies and provided his shoulder in times of sorrow,” she said.  The school choir performed at the funeral, including rousing renditions of Imagine by John Lennon and Mr. Noble’s favourite song ‘Sitting by the Dock of the Bay’.
Mr. Noble was “fanatical” about sport particularly rowing and was a participant, spectator, coach and fan. When his son Gavin made history in becoming the first Irish man ever to compete at an Olympics in triathlon no one was prouder than him. 
Gareth explained: “Daddy told everyone he met in London that week about the purpose of his visit. There wasn’t a taxi driver, waitress or passenger on the tube that didn’t hear about his son’s success. 
“As a family we gathered around the exit point for the athletes leaving Hyde Park and the hug that Daddy greeted Gavin with was a memory that I will always treasure,” he said.  
The love and affection that Mr. Noble had for his wife Mary, and her love for him, was as strong as it always has been when they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in 2017.
“Tom met Mary and regaled us of his tale of their first kiss under the fish tank in the Bush Bar. The first date was to McKenzie’s bar in Boho, a place we visited with them a number of years ago. Mum also told us of the day she did her driving test and daddy, as always, was more nervous than her. She spotted him hiding from behind a newspaper at various locations as she drove through the streets of Enniskillen. 
“They were the closest of couples and how fitting that Mummy was there last Saturday to provide him with that final act of love and support. She too is a hero to us,” he said. 
The celebration of Mr. Noble’s life was led by his three sons. While Gareth gave the eulogy, Gavin and Mark also spoke. 
On behalf of his mother Mary and siblings Gavin, Marie-Claire, Mark and Sarah Louise, as well as Mr. Noble’s grandchildren Tom, Kristin, Izzy, Ellie, Philip, Maggie and Grace, and siblings Cecil and Pam, Gareth evoked the words of the great Seamus Heaney.
“Sometimes there is neither rhyme nor reason to events or things that happen. We will in time rejoice in the happy memories but we are still in that survival mode. 
“We feel robbed that he is gone at just 68. But whilst we have to let Daddy go, we will never let his values, his principles, his ideas, his dreams, his vision go. That would be to fail him and all that he stood for,” he said. 
Tom Noble’s footprints may be left behind, but they will never fade away.