AFTER 41 years as principal of Dromara Primary School, Stanley Poots retires later this year and what more fitting way to round off a lifetime of service to education than with an MBE, conferred in the New Year's Honours List in recognition of that service.
Robert Stanley Poots (66) was born in Dromore and attended the local primary school, where he would go on to teach before making a defining move to neighbouring Dromara.
Indeed, among the young Mr. Poots' early P7 pupils as a student teacher was one Jim Cochrane, now, of course, principal of that self-same Dromore Central Primary School.
Further educated at Banbridge Academy and Stranmillis, where he indulged a love of sport that remains an abiding passion to this day, Stanley took up his first teaching appointment at Dromore Central at a time when Mr. Fred McCarroll was headmaster.
His Dromore roots were acknowledged by a town councillor, Ulster Unionist Carol Black, who offered her congratulations on Mr. Poots' honour.
"Work, such as Stanley's, in education is something that needs to be cherished at the minute," she said.
"Stanley served many years right here in Dromore at the Primary School before going to Dromara."
Mr. Poots said, "I had five very happy years at Dromore. Then I was encouraged to apply to a wee school in Dromara; I didn't know much about Dromara but I thought I would stay a while before moving on."
That was in 1970 and a little over four decades later Stanley Poots, his wife Joyce and family are an integral part of the fabric of Dromara, key and active figures in the wider community.
"I got involved in local sport," said Stanley, almost as if no further explanation was necessary, but he added, "My wife became involved with a local factory, Elizabeth Alexandra, where she was design director for more than 20 years.
"I got involved in the town committee and establishing cross-community football for young people."
Along the way, Stanley and Joyce had four sons, opting to stay in Dromara to put them through school but each passing year saw them more and more entrenched in village life, so much so, in fact, that having applied for a position at Lurgan's Model School, Stanley rethought the planned move and decided to stay at Dromara Primary.
"I set about trying to develop the school here," he said, "primarily in terms of sports facilities."
Mr. Poots campaign would go on to raise more than 1m for a new sports complex to benefit both the primary school and the wider community.
The local principal's goal was to bring school and community closer together.
T hough not an integrated school, Dromara Primary, he said, was nevertheless very much integrated in terms of religious denomination and otherwise.
"That's very pleasing to me," he said. "Over the years I tried to teach the kids to play and work together and in recent years I have spent a lot of time working with older kids."
That work, he said, had been very much a two-way exchange.
Developing strong links drove Stanley in other areas too, not least during his time as president of the Ulster Teachers' Union.
He brought together the UTU and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, who formed a joint board and now meet jointly in a lasting legacy of Stanley's presidency.
"It was interesting when I looked into it," he said, "to find that my first principal, Fred McCarroll, had also been UTU president and also wanted to bring the two organisations together, around the 1960s, but didn't quite manage it at the time."
With 41 years at Dromara Primary, Mr. Poots may well be the longest principal in post and can contentedly claim to have enjoyed "every single day" of it.
"I've always enjoyed teaching," he said. "I've felt enthusiastic right throughout my career.
"Every single morning I have a ‘meet and greet' for all the four and five-year-olds, when I speak to them all individually; I enjoy that as much today as I ever did."
So what then does Stanley make of his MBE? "I was a bit shocked when I heard," he said. "I had no inkling about it from anyone, no idea at all of that sort of thing being suggested.
"From the point of view of my work in education, I did whatever I could from a school point of view, from a union point of view and from a bringing people together point of view.
"I'm happy if someone, somewhere thinks that has been worthwhile.
"It's something I never would have looked for, but it is nice, at the end of my career."
Stanley Poots MBE