Gilbert Tunney was more than a successful businessman, he was a “most brilliant family man” and his death unexpectedly at South West Acute Hospital last week has plunged his wife Winnie and children Nessa, Claire, Edel, Julie, Tracey, Gail, Joelene and Zoe into unbearable grief.

“Dad worked all day and was at the dinner table every night. He took us to Mass, he celebrated the birthday parties and Christmases, he taught us to drive, made us work and never stopped giving advice, even if we didn't want to hear the truth,” Zoe told The Impartial Reporter.

It was her father who taught her and the rest of her siblings “the importance of family and tradition and to work hard, but play harder, at other times”.

“His parties and generosity were legendary where food, drink, music and always flowed. If you were in the same room as Dad, you couldn't help but feel his presence, yet he always made sure you knew that your presence was important to him. He could, and always did, talk to everyone because he was a people's person and a master at reading someone's loss or life challenge. He always imparted his wisdom and experience where needed."

Such was his sense of community that Mr. Tunney "visited everyone he knew in hospital", explained Zoe. "No matter what pressure he was under at work he downed tools, put on a suit and attended every funeral in the Enniskillen and Trillick areas as well. He would tell us 'you can't go tomorrow when you've got more time. It's happening for the family now so be there.' He was true to the teaching of 'visit the sick and bury the dead'," she said.

Mr. Tunney was born in Ballyshannon in 1934 and his family lived in Bundoran. His parents, Mary-Anne and James Tunney, owned land in Trillick, so they returned to live there.

"He left school at 14 to serve his time as a mechanic. He spoke about how he was so young and slight of build that he couldn't get a boiler suit to fit him. He often rode a bike from Trillick to Enniskillen and back, when he worked in T.P. Toppings and Rankin's garages in Enniskillen, before serving out the rest of his apprenticeship, converting former WWII vehicles and trailers for road-use in John McKinney's in Omagh. He joined his brothers in Birmingham for a while, where he worked as a mechanic on the city's buses."

His father, James Tunney, was a well-known cattle dealer and businessman, who set each of his 10 children up, with a piece of land or property. Mr. Tunney returned to Trillick where his father acquired the site for a garage.

A natural businessman and extremely hard worker, he constantly expanded the garage and it quickly went from a petrol station and vehicle repair shop to a Ford car dealership, precision engineering workshop, body shop and auto parts centre. At one point, the self-motivated entrepreneur, owned eight separate car dealerships selling Honda, Toyota, Vauxhall, Subaru, Isuzu, Datsun, Mitsubishi, among others, in Trillick, Omagh, Dungannon, Lisnaskea and Enniskillen. In the Trillick garage alone, Mr. Tunney employed 33 people at one time, was also the undertaker, owned a pub and the first supermarket, was a coal merchant, an auxiliary fireman and the main employer of young men and women in the locality.

"He was often asked to sponsor local go-getters in sports, business or community endeavours, which he was more than happy to do believing it was important to support self-starters so that they could progress themselves and their community. He knew the ripple-effect of a helping hand and if he was in the position to help anyone, he would.

"Former employees of Dad's in Trillick were planning a reunion in April this year, where Dad would've been the guest of honour. With lockdown it didn't happen of course, but we counted 32 people who trained with Dad in engineering or sales and who left him and directly set up their own successful companies, in the fields in which he had trained them. That they are still working and giving employment today is a testament to the thorough grounding he gave them," said Zoe.

He started GT Exhausts on the Irvinestown Road, in Enniskillen in 1977 and despite many manufacturing concerns closing down in the area and indeed all over the UK, the company still produces and employs local people at the new factory in Carran Business Park today. He was awarded an MBE for services to the car industry and the communities of Trillick and Enniskillen in 2015.

"He was proud of the recognition, sure, but it wasn't an excuse to rest on your laurels either. It was straight back to work after the ceremony for Dad," said Tracey who runs the company today.

"He did everything with fire in his belly. He was constantly working, constantly thinking and constantly planning ahead. There was no stopping him ever. Even from his hospital bed he was still calling us and giving us ideas, chatting about everything and anything, asking about the grandchildren and having the craic. The grandchildren will miss the Easter egg hunts and family barbecues.

"He loved Christmas, when we would all come home from university, or travelling or work. The house was full, the drink was flowing and he cooked us gammon and eggs. He took up golf and was a member of Enniskillen Golf Club. After a week's work he enjoyed a game of golf with his four-ball and the 19th hole was a favourite spot. Whether he was on a day trip with the Erne Vintage Car Club or sitting out the back of the boat on Lough Erne, he and mum had the drink and food packed and got settled in for the party, with good friends," said Zoe.

Mrs. Tunney and the family would like to thank everyone who turned out for Mr. Tunney's his final journey to St. Michael's Church and Cross Cemetery.

"It was the most respectful and dignified sending off," his daughter, Joelene said.

"People did for Daddy exactly what he would've done for them. They found a way despite lockdown to show up and be counted. We'll never forget the sight of his staff, business partners, Enniskillen neighbours and Trillick compatriots, golf club and vintage car club members lining his route there and back. It was amazing and so touching.

"We asked mum what he would say to us now," Zoe said, "and she told us he would say 'my time is up. It was out of my control. Now you must get on with it' and it is no surprise to any of us, that we find that comforting, because that's the same sort of reality and matter-of-fact advice he reared us with."