A tribute to JJ O’Hara
Vincent Jennings, chief executive of CSNA, pays tribute to one of Ireland's best-loved retailers
11 September 2008
On 13 August this year, friends of JJ O’Hara were deprived of the most dynamic, micheivous and loyal colleague they are ever likely to meet. The outpouring of emotion that accompanied the news of the death of JJ was understandable; sudden and unexpected loss of anybody is a tragedy, but in the case of JJ, it was more than that, it meant the abrupt ending of a life everyone enjoyed being involved with.
Many of us in business achieve levels of success and tend to be measured by standards that can be both crude and superficial. JJ was interested in improving the lives of others, driven by a deep religious conviction and a sense of fairplay that forced him to consider the needs of others above his own needs. He believed in the strength of campaiging for change, in negotiating for the benefits of others, and would never accept the words “it can’t be done” and “no” into his vocabulary. Had JJ chosen to put his acumen and energy into self enrichment he would have become a very wealthy man, but this would not have satisfied him; he wanted, and needed, to act in ways in which the greatest amount of people would benefit from the realisations of their joint achievements.
Small towns in Ireland are under threat from forces that they feel unable to repel. Centralised services, being overlooked or ignored in Regional Development Plans and difficulties in securing meaningful job creation have all combined to undermine the fabric of the community in rural Ireland. One of the greatest abilities of JJ was to identify, both in a small and large scale, the measures and the solutions to arrest such decline, introducing into the community a series of local and focussed targets to harness the talents and energy of those in the area. Tidy Towns, Angling Festivals, St. Patricks Day Floats, were evidence of action designed to instil a sense of place, whilst larger and more ambitous projects such as Foxford Woolen Mills, the Admiral Brown Project and a proposed language school were testimony to the vision of JJ as the architect of Foxford as a destination for tourism. The tears on the faces of the Guard of Honour formed outside another of his projects, The Hope House (a centre for Addiction Treatment), showed all in attendance at his funeral that one man can and does make a difference.
There have been many fine and well deserved tributes paid to JJ in obituaries and editorials in local, provincial and national papers, but they are words, tommorow’s wrapping for fish and chips. Let us collectively engage, as a sector, to continue the work and dreams of JJ, in our own communities. I would like to see the wholesalers and suppliers collectively funding a centre for community initiatives, which would research and communicate with locally-based organisations, pooling resources, strengthening communities and enabling self-help projects.
JJ was proud of his town, his county and his country, he went out and did something; we owe it to all our children to do more that shout stop. As a colleague, we will miss him, one of the founders of the Irish Retail Newsagent Association, a campaigner in trade matters for over 20 years, fiercly independent and devastatingly direct. To his wife Bernie, his children, his mother, brothers and sisters, we extend our heartfelt sympathy. Never say never.
Vincent Jennings, chief executive, CSNA
Hope House in Foxford, Co Mayo was the beneficary of donations in lieu of floral tributes. If you would like to remember JJ you may wish to forward a donation in tribute of JJ to them. All donations will be put to good use and will be acknowledged.