THE Fermanagh community is in mourning following the unexpected death of Mickey McPhillips, who was widely regarded as a "great community man" who brought "joy and happiness" to many people.

Michael 'Mickey' McPhillips (54), from Newtownbutler, passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, November 21.

Using a statement often coined by Hugo Duncan to describe Mickey, his heartbroken brother, Richie McPhillips, a former SDLP MLA, said: "'If you meet somebody and they haven’t got a smile on their face, give them one of yours'.

"Mickey McPhillips epitomised that sort of person. No matter who he met, or where he met them, he had a smile on his face.

"He brought joy and happiness to so many people that he met over the years, whether that be a child in a pram, to the oldest person in the community. He had a tremendous amount of time for everybody," Richie told The Impartial Reporter, grief evident in his voice.

The positive impact Mickey had made on his local community was evident by the number of people in Maguiresbridge, Lisnaskea and Newtownbutler who stood out to pay their respects when he was brought home by his family on Monday evening.

"It was absolutely unbelievable, the number of people who turned out," said Richie.

Noting how his brother was "always very helpful", Richie said: "He stood by me and my family."

He continued: "Although he mightn’t have totally agreed with my politics, he was with me in any election that I ran in. He supported me in so many ways, and I’ll be eternally grateful."

As was his helpful nature, Mickey only had to get a phone call or message from anybody and he was there to offer his assistance, his brother told this newspaper.

Mickey had a great interest in history, of this land and its people, and he was involved in many historical organisations.

He was also very heavily involved in his church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Newtownbutler, and he was active in many parish organisations.

"Anything he could help out in, he gave up his time freely, and that was his nature," said Richie.

In recent years, Mickey worked in media and owned his own company, McPhillips Digital Media.

"He filmed a lot of documentaries, which in a lot of cases would have been of a historical nature," said Richie.

Previously, Mickey had worked as a kitchen manufacturer and joiner, and was well-known in the area for his work.

In the week leading up to his death, Mickey had been greatly concerned that he had contracted the coronavirus.

Richie said: "In many respects, he was very afraid of Covid-19. He would’ve expressed concerns of it a lot of times, purely because he lived with my mother, who is 85 years of age, and would obviously have underlying conditions.

"He was always very afraid of bringing it home to her. He was very anxious about it.

"Last week, he had a bit of a chest infection and a cough. He took a Covid test on Friday but, unfortunately, he didn’t wait for the results to come through. The result came through on Saturday morning as negative," he added.

Mickey's body was recovered from the water at Galloon Road, Newtownbutler on Saturday morning.

Richie said: "The family would like to convey our thanks to all the emergency services, for their prompt action that took place on Saturday morning.

"The NI Ambulance Service, the PSNI, the RNLI and the Fire Service all gave so willingly of their time.

"We as a family are very lucky, in the sense that families in the same predicament could be and have been left for weeks waiting to get their loved one back home again.

"We were so lucky that our brother, Eamon, he commandeered a boat and got out into the water along with a neighbour, John Malarkey, and they rescued his body from the water at Galloon.

"Again, as a family, we will be eternally grateful to them for doing that."

Urging people to "think seriously about their mental health" during this time, Richie said: "Think seriously about talking to people. Don’t bottle it up, let people know; it’s all right to be unwell, and there is help out there and there is always, always somebody to talk to and direct you.

"Let’s face facts – we all need to get the message out there, and to help and support other people who are feeling anxious about the whole situation. I couldn’t emphasise that enough," he told this newspaper.

Son of Margaret (commonly known as Peggy), and the late Tommy McPhillips, brother to Richie, Eamon, Canon Jimmy, Tony and Cora, Mickey is lovingly remembered by his family and the wider family circle.

“We’ll miss his friendship and being able to call on him when in need. His nieces and nephews will miss him immensely, and we as brothers, and Cora our sister, we’ll all miss him terribly, there’s no doubt about that," said an emotional Richie.