IT WAS fantastic for All Together NOW! to be singled out as the winner of the Specialist Publication of the Year title at the O2 Media Awards.

For our charity newspaper to be even shortlisted alongside media giants such as Trinity Mirror is a great achievement.

But to go and scoop the top prize is the icing on the cake, and is a great testament to all our supporters.

But the celebrations at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester were tinged with great sadness.

Frank Harris, our long-time friend and extremely popular cartoonist, passed away on the eve of the ceremony.

And a few weeks earlier, our campaigning columnist Sir Bert Massie, and my long-time and inspirational friend, Ken Stokes, also died.

Their deaths are a shattering blow to all of us   here at the newspaper.

Our thoughts are with all their families . . .

FRANK HARRIS, the man responsible for putting plenty of smiles on our readers’ faces, sadly passed away on Wednesday November 8.

Frank’s Senior Moments cartoon strip, which took a sideways glance at age and disability, was one of the most popular features in All Together NOW!

“Getting older is just a part of life,” he’d say. “You’ve just got to count your blessings that you are still around to enjoy those very funny moments – and there are plenty of them if you stop and look around – starting with yourself!”

I first met Frank in the autumn of 1976 when I joined the team at the Liverpool Echo. Clouds of tobacco smoke billowed from a screened area where Frank created his famous cartoons and illustrations.

“Don’t smoke,” he said, sucking a cigarette. “They ruin your golf – and kill you in the end.”

Considering our first chat was more than 40 years ago, when Frank was nearing his 50th birthday, he didn’t fare too badly.

Life, though, did become tougher by the year. Not long after retiring from the Echo, emphysema kicked in, his golfing days came to an end, and walking became an     ever-increasing battle.

But he lost none of his brilliant sense of humour – or his love for life.

During his regular visits to the office with his wife, June, who died last year, conversation always turned to his wonderful family – son David, daughter Jill and their four grandchildren – and to All Together NOW!

Frank took up drawing as a young adult and joined the Echo in the early 1960s.

He created the Willie cartoon strip in 1977. It was stopped briefly in 2008, but public reaction soon saw it swiftly restored to the paper.

When the Willie cartoon ended in 2009, Frank started his Senior Moments strip.

“It’s a real labour of love,” he told me. “It’s just great to be part of this paper. I hope I can continue for years to come.”

It wasn’t to be. Frank had a fall at home. He died four weeks later due to pneumonia. He was 89.

— editor TOM DOWLING