Sorrow and happy memories as John the lollipop man – once the UK’s favorite – dies

A much-loved lollipop man judged the best in Britain has died three and a half years after hanging up his stick.

John Foley spent a decade ensuring the kids of Bushes Primary in Paisley got safely across the road right outside the school.

He was a local and national treasure after beating nearly 20,000 nominations for a national competition to find the UK’s favorite patroller.

Bushes headmaster Craig McCrorie broke the news of 68-year-old John’s death with “great sadnesses”.

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The dad-of-three from Renfrew was a fireman when he was forced into early retirement from Strathclyde Fire Brigade after 18 years.

He had struggled with chronic fatigue syndrome. . . but he took on a new lease of life when he laid down his hose and picked up his lollipop stick.

Headmaster Mr McCorie said: “John worked on the crossing outside our school from January 2009 until October 2018.

“In his time with us he won Lollipop Person of the Year for both Scotland and Britain.

“He was a huge part of the community of Glenburn as well as Bushes Primary and he was a wonderful character.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s wife Cathy and his family at this heartbreaking time.”

Such is his legacy that a bit of Bushes will be forever his, with a playground shelter called ‘Foley’s Rest’.

A little playground sanctuary - John with headmaster Craig McCrorie and kids
A little playground sanctuary – John with headmaster Craig McCrorie and kids

As well as getting more than 350 pupils safely across the road he got fired into school life.

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John helped the dinner ladies set up for lunch and would change car tires for teachers with a puncture.

At fun days he would be the keeper in beat-the-goalie competitions.

A full assembly was held for John when he became the UK’s best lollipop person and it was attended by the then schools minister Keith Brown MSP and George Bowie of Radio Clyde.

At his retirement presented headmaster McCrorie noted he “remembered every pupil’s name” and “always greeted them with a friendly smile.”

As he left his job pupils serenaded him with their version of The Proclaimers’ hit 500 Miles, with the words changed to praise their lollipop man.

Marion Rossi described him a “gem of a man” who had time for the parents as well as the kids.

Final crossing - John at his retirement in 2018
Final crossing – John at his retirement in 2018

And fellow mum Violet Wilkinson joked: “You’re not allowed to leave, John.

“We are all going to pin you to the gates.”

And local councillor Eddie Devine said: “He is a wonderful advertisement for Glenburn… always enthusiastic and brightens up the day no matter the weather.”

On learning of John’s death, a Bushes parent said yesterday: “John was an absolute gem.

“He always had a kind word for kids and parents at Bushes and he was well loved by everyone.

“The kids loved him for his cheery nature, he made them laugh and always had a sweetie at hand.

“We’re all in shock – he only retired a couple of years ago to spend more time with his family.

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“He was so popular and will be very missed.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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