July 12th: Orange man Hilbert Willis (100) takes part in the July 12th parade

July 12th: Orange man Hilbert Willis (100) takes part in the July 12th parade

Hilbert Willis (100), from Loughgall, is hoping to take part in the parade in Killylea on Friday as his beloved shop takes part in the annual demonstration which is expected to attract 40,000 spectators onto the streets.

The honour comes just five months after the pensioner received a special birthday card from King Charles III and four months after he celebrated 80 years as a member of the Royal Black Institution.

“I would never miss the Twelfth, and I hope to be there this year,” Willis told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I started out as a side drummer in the Kinnego Flute Band No. 5. But eventually my son said to me, ‘I think you’ve got too many gray hairs,’ so I left when I was old enough to still have my wits about me.

“I loved it very much. However, age was starting to show on me and I wasn’t walking as well as I should have.

“But I’ll always be number five as long as I’m alive.”

Sir Knight Willis was honoured at a ceremony at the Royal Black Institution headquarters in Loughgall earlier this year, in the presence of the Sovereign Grand Master the Rev. William Anderson and officers from No. 6 Summerisland Royal Black District.

He was presented with a certificate to mark his impressive service record, which began on March 1, 1944, when he joined the organisation – days after his 20th birthday on February 11. The proud member of Kinnego LOL No. 5 was a founding member of the junior lodge in Loughgall before joining the pipe band.

“I was worship master at the lodge for three or four years and was also treasurer at one point,” he said.

“I’ll tell you the honest truth, I’m in a few societies – but I’ve been in the store before all of them. I put my Orange store banner on first.”

Mr Willis, who was caretaker of Loughgall FC for three decades – and also chairman for 10 years – enjoyed a special dinner at the League of Ireland club, where a stand was named after him earlier this year.

The honor recognizes their fundraising efforts.

“My name is at the top, so I had my 100th birthday party there and it lasted all weekend. I asked for donations in lieu of gifts, which ended up raising another £8,700.

“I still appreciate my King card, but I’m looking forward to Friday because I still like the Twelfth.”

The dedicated Orangeman is hoping to be in the back of a minibus, which will make it easier for him to take part in the demonstration. “It’s nice to still be part of the parade, that’s really important to me,” Mr Willis said.

“A lot of people have come and gone over the years since I joined. I just thank the Lord that I’m still here and I’m so grateful for my health.

“My vision isn’t the best and my hearing is a little weak. But I feel 100% and I can’t complain about anything.”