A local artist has paid tribute to an inspiring member of his community, a 76-year-old paperboy and delivery driver, as part of the We Art Our Heroes initiative.
The Evening Express and Press and Journal have teamed up for the campaign, which launched last month, and aims to celebrate the special people who have made a difference in the past 12 months.
The initiative has involved readers of all ages using their creativity to draw pictures of some of the lockdown workers who have helped them during the pandemic.
Michael Kitchen from Inverboyndie is one of many entries, who chose to create a portrait Johnny Stephen, a local paperboy and delivery driver employed by Premier Stores serving Banff and Whitehills.
Wondering how to offer support, the 78-year-old immediately thought of contributing a portrait of Johnny.
He said: “Like many others, I whole-heartedly support the We Art Our Heroes campaign as it provides opportunities for non-combatants to contribute something to celebrate those courageously serving in support of, and on, the frontline.
“Rising at 5am for nine years, Johnny has cheerfully delivered the morning papers in all weathers and, in spite of age, carried on regardless through restrictions imposed by lockdowns.
“No stranger to variations in weather, he once served the community as a member of the coast guard service for 41 years; retiring as station officer at Banff.”
Michael paints in watercolours, oils and pastels, and his obsession with light and shadows, capturing atmosphere and the very essence of his subjects is evident in all his works – particularly portraiture and Scottish landscapes.
When approached by Michael about participating, Johnny, in his good-natured manner, readily agreed and posed for photographs for the We Art Our Heroes campaign drawing.
“I worked from these images and personal knowledge of character,” Michael added.
“I then created the portrait in pastels, subsequently sending a copy to Johnny, who in turn shared it with family and fellow workmates.
“Concerning likeness, feedback has been extremely positive and complimentary.”
William (Billy) David Gatt, owner of the Premier Store in Whitehills, also commented on the likeness of Michael’s We Art Our Heroes portrait.
Billy, 56, has known Johnny for 25 years and described him as “happy go lucky”.
“Johnny has been a paperboy at the Premier in Whitehills for nine years now,” Billy added.
“He actually took on the job from my father-in-law, Jim Pirie, who was aged 81 when he finished working due to an operation.
“Johnny always wants to stop and have a talk to people, which has especially been important for elderly folk during the lockdown, when he has also been doing many home deliveries.
“What I find most inspiring about Johnny is that he looked after his wife Eileen full time for many years prior to coming to work with us.
“Eileen was a lovely lady who was full of life, but sadly had a brain injury followed by many medical problems. Johnny looked after Eileen wonderfully well and loved her dearly.
“His love and care for here was exemplary. She used to love going out to the Seafield Arms where she enjoyed the craic with the locals.
“Johnny has a great memory and knows so many folk from his various jobs and experiences, which included working at Ladysbridge Hospital as a male nurse – where he met Eileen.
“We are building a new shop at the minute and envisage Johnny working on whilst he has good health.”
Speaking on his We Art Our Heroes portrait, Johnny said he was amazed when Michael approached him about the idea. “I didn’t know my beard was so white”, Johnny laughed.
“All jokes aside, I was so humbled when Michael asked if he could draw a portrait of me. It’s excellent.
“I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed being a paperboy for the shops. It gets me out of the house and I get to chat with so many people every day.
“I’m looking forward to working at Billy’s new shop when the time comes.
“As for the campaign, I think it’s great. I like how the frontline workers behind the scenes are really being brought to light from it. It’s a fantastic idea.”