PHIL CROSSEY PAYS TRIBUTE TO FORMER EDITOR, GARY GILLILAND.

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A PHOTO OF GARY IN HIS YOUTH. PHOTO SOURCE: THE IRISH NEWS.

Former Editor, Phil Crossey.

Gary Gilliland, the former Gown editor who died suddenly in Liverpool at the age of 40, joined the paper in 1995.

I remember the day. If I’d know I would have to write about it 22 years later, I would have taken more heed. Journalism is what happens when you’re (hopefully) paying attention. Life is what happens at all other times.

Gary combined an eye for detail, a willingness to learn and a rare ability to connect with people. The skills he had when he walked through the door of The Gown office developed during his time at the paper, and throughout his career.

There is always a danger of looking back on your student days with a dewy-eyed nostalgia, particularly after more than two decades have passed. There are countless clubs, societies and groups across Queen’s. In many regards, the Gown is the same as every single one of them. The friendships, forged at such a pivotal time in your life, tended to last.

It was a different era for journalism. The internet was a fledging technology. The digital realm was beginning to assert its influence on the industry. For decades, even centuries, newspapers had been about paper and ink. Phones where attached to a wall and computers were a scarce resource. That was beginning to change.

You tend to attach people to an era. Gary was the Britpop-soundtracked time of the mid-Nineties. He retained a healthy distrust of technology throughout his life. Getting him on email or social media was difficult, but he rarely – if ever- left a correspondence unanswered. As far as I can recall, he never quite owned a fully functioning motor car.

The Gown was always a fleeting experience. You join up, do your bit, and then you hand it over to whoever is coming next. Amid the hope that yours will be the ‘golden era’, there is the fear that you could preside over the demise of the paper with a history stretching back to 1955.

In The Gown, the challenges were keeping standards high, avoiding in-jokes and raising the funds to publish the next issue.

The joint editorship of Gary Gilliland and Hilary McConnell laid the course of both their journalistic careers. In fact, in and around this time, The Gown was rich with talented people who would go on to establish themselves in the industry.

It was as much a social exercise as a professional one. And it is easier to recall the late nights out than late nights putting editions to bed. They are what the memories are made of.

Gary’s career took him to the News Letter, on to the Mirror with a stint in the Sunday People before he relocated to Liverpool to work for Sports Media. Latterly, he was involved in the production of a range of publications, among them the Chelsea football club match day programmes.

He was also a committed and active member of the National Union of Journalists.

During his time at The Gown, Gary made dozens of friends, something he would continue to do not only during his career, but in his life as well. The outpouring of grief since his death has reflected how highly was regarded by a large, and surprisingly wide-ranging, number of people. They, like everyone in The Gown, just liked him.

It is a measure of the man that, after the shock of his death, those who knew him will recall a story, incident or memory which brings a smile to their face. He realised that, for all the times life can be cruel, unfair or difficult, it can also be absurd. Frequently, it can be all those things, and more, at the same time.

His death takes a large piece of that Gown era with it. Through tens of millions of words, and millions of readers, he made a small impact on countless people. But, while Gary’s career is quantifiable, his life is not. Journalism is all the poorer for his passing, but the real, intangible loss is felt by his family and friends.

I can hear Gary telling me off for making this article as much about myself, and The Gown, as it is about its subject. While saying that I don’t need to be so sentimental. He would be using a mixture of humour, coercion and ego massage to suggest I could write a better piece than this if I really tried.

He’s right. And it’s devastating that he’s not here for the one article when I need him the most.

Phil Crossey was joint editor of The Gown in 96/97 and studied Journalism with Gary in UU in 1999. They worked together occasionally in various guises and remained friends since first meeting in The Gown office.

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