BILL Rice, former elder at Richmond Hill St Andrew's United Reformed Church, has died at the age of 85.

The kind, engaging and outgoing Irishman was born in Belfast in 1932, the youngest of six children.

Although identified as being a bright and intelligent boy with good academic prospects ahead of him, family circumstances dictated that he left school when he was 14 in order to earn a living.

"His abilities were amply confirmed when he started work for an optical company and ended up becoming the manager," said Dan Campbell, organist and Elder at Richmond Hill.

Bill attended a Mission Hall in Belfast where his Christian faith was kindled and nurtured. This foundation eventually underpinned everything which he did, in his work, his family life and his church work.

He married Eileen in 1954 and they had two children, Alan and Margaret, who were to provide them with grandchildren Victoria, Alex and Natalie. Great grandchild Charlie-May delighted both Bill and Eileen who enjoyed 62 years of love, faithfulness, compromise and devotion during their married life together.

The family eventually moved to Bournemouth where Bill was a worker with the George Temperance Trust, thereby becoming an internationally renowned authority on alcohol and other substance abuse, particularly as it affects young people.

"He was invited into schools, youth clubs and universities to share his invaluable knowledge and expertise. It was also his Christian faith which made him the sensitive and caring person which everyone will remember," said Dan.

It wasn't long before Bill and Eileen became members of the former St Andrew's Church in Exeter Road, entering fully into church life and fellowship. He was ordained as an Elder, where his communication skills, teaching abilities and occasional preaching were greatly valued.

He brought wise counsel to many a committee and church meeting and everyone took note in the knowledge that he always had something pertinent and helpful to add to the proceedings.

"Many churches have been blessed by his ministry of preaching which was always Biblical, relevant and seldom lacking in his gentle Irish humour. There were many social occasions which were greatly enlivened by his self-effacing humour, often directed at the Irish, and frequently delivered in tandem with his fellow Irishman, Paddy Pollock. His contributions to St Patrick's Day celebrations will always be remembered," said Dan.

When it was proposed that St Andrew's and Richmond Hill United Reformed Churches come together on the St Stephen's Road site in 2004, Bill gave his full support to the union.

Bill and Eileen enjoyed many cruises in retirement which he rated according to the catering standard, regardless of destination.

"For some time Bill's health had been in decline but he dealt with the symptoms and faced the various surgical procedures with a fortitude and bravery not given to many," said Dan.

His funeral service was held at Richmond Hill St Andrew's United Reformed Church on February 7, followed by an interment at Broadstone.