Joan Tomlin was a founding member of the Alliance Party and Freeman of the borough of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. Born to educated but financially struggling parents, Leonard and Agnes Charlier, she left school at 16 to become a librarian.
She married Denis Tomlin, an electrical engineer in the army, on Boxing Day 1939. When he returned from the war they had seven children, and she worked occasionally as a cleaner or shop assistant to try to make ends meet.
In 1964 the family moved with the four children still at school to Greenisland, a small community eight miles from Belfast. It was a happy time. They enjoyed the Ulster countryside and holidays with Denis in their caravan. In 1969 Denis died and she had to move with her elderly mother and the two children still at school, via temporary housing, to a small house. Joan took a part time job as school secretary at the Catholic primary school.
Greenisland was a mixed Catholic and Protestant community, consisting mainly of a large council estate, but as the Troubles grew, the Catholic church was firebombed, many Catholics moved back into Belfast and the Catholic primary school shrank to a fraction of its size.
She was a determined peace campaigner, working hard to bring both sides of the community together. She was a founder member of the Greenisland Community Council and Women Together.
When shots were fired at the house one day, rather than return to England, where most of her children lived, she sent the remaining son to live with his older sister in England, and put her heart into local politics. She used her position as an English Catholic in Northern Ireland to bridge the divide. Her defence of the poor and disadvantaged, along with her erratic driving, became legendary.
She organised the community minibus for shopping trips to Crazy Prices in Carrickfergus to bypass the high prices in Greenisland’s only shop. Hospital visits, Red Cross, meals on wheels, you name it, she did it. In all this time she was supported by friends from all across the community, from Margaret who kept her house “clean and Protestant-looking”, to Owen, the headteacher at the beleaguered Catholic primary school. She encouraged many of the current leadership of the Alliance Party to get involved in politics. She was elected as a councillor in Carrickfergus in 1973 although she did not gain a place in the Northern Ireland Assembly when she stood in 1977. She was made a Freeman of the Borough of Carrickfergus in 1988. She was also a supporter of Corrymeela, the ecumenical centre for mothers and children.
Having made this significant contribution to Northern Ireland politics in the 1970s and 1980s at the height of the Troubles she retired and returned to England. She continued to speak about and raise money for Corrymeela until the 1990s when she broke a hip and could not drive. Mrs Tomlin spent her retirement helping her own children and grandchildren through temporary problems and volunteering.
At one time she cared for her autistic grandson in the day and an unrelated Down’s syndrome child one weekend a month. Retiring aged 75 to Hereford to live with her oldest daughter, she continued to visit old people, always with her wicked laugh and sensitive support.
In her last years she maintained a remarkable pace, always ready for some fun, for a silly rhyme or a laugh.
She lost two of her sons to heart disease but delighted in her five surviving children, her daughters and sons in law, her 18 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.