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John Leathem is laid to rest

SADLY MISSED: John Leathem’s remains are carried on the Falls Road for the final time; inset, John Leathem SADLY MISSED: John Leathem’s remains are carried on the Falls Road for the final time; inset, John Leathem
By Michael Jackson

Hundreds of people turned out on the Falls Road on Tuesday for the funeral of community stalwart John Leathem. The 59-year-old passed away on Saturday after a battle with cancer.

John spent most of his life tirelessly working for the people of the lower Falls. As a former chairman of the Divis Tower Residents’ Association he continuously fought to improve the living conditions of his neighbours and was to the fore in lobbying against the demolition of the tower.

Much of his childhood was spent in care homes run by the Catholic Church and he bravely gave evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry about his time spent in Nazareth Lodge where he himself suffered abuse.

Despite battling with depression and self-harm in his youth, he turned his life around when he moved to Divis and was one of the first people to speak out about the impact of church child abuse.

Fra McCann MLA described John as “a loving, caring person who fought for the people of no property”.

“He worked tirelessly for his community and my life was much better for knowing him. He enriched many peoples lives,” he said.

“I met John over 30 years ago and over that time we built a great friendship and relationship. He turned no one away and fought for every one with a passion. He realised that the system was stacked against those who had nothing and set about trying to break those barriers down. Many people are in homes or had their benefits sorted due to John’s hard work.”

John passed peacefully in his Divis Tower home, where he once told the Andersonstown News he was happy to spend his final days.

“It’s our home,” he said.

“I moved out of it and then I got cancer and came back home and I’m happy to die here.”

John Leathem’s remains left Divis Tower for a Service in Roselawn Crematorium. The national flag was placed on his coffin in his honour.

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