Tributes paid to Tom Savage who faced 'great difficulties' when leaving priesthood to be with Terry Prone
Tom Savage experienced "great difficulties" when he left the priesthood to be with the love of his life, Terry Prone but the couple were "entirely upfront" and did not "disappear" from public life, their good friend Fr Brian D'Arcy has said.
The communications consultant - who played a key role in the peace process due to his work as the spokesperson and adviser to the late Taoiseach Albert Reynolds - has passed away at the age of 76 following a short illness.
Tributes have been paid to the native of Cooley, Co Louth.
RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes described how Mr Savage's life and career had intertwined with RTÉ over many years as a reporter, producer, editor, presenter and ultimately as chairman from 2009-2014.
"He loved and had a passion for broadcasting, radio in particular, and beyond news and politics he was also a huge sports fan," she said.
Broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan revealed how she has never forgotten Mr Savage's kindness to her sister Anne when she was first diagnosed with stomach cancer at the age of 33, sadly passing away six months later.
Anne had heard he was one of the very few people to survive a similar cancer and he took time out to meet up with her and to reassure her about her illness.
She described him as a "true gentleman" who was always kind and polite and who was never too busy to stop and chat.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin expressed sadness at Mr Savage's death, saying he had known him since his election.
"During his time as an adviser to former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, he played a behind-the-scenes, yet crucial, role in the early years of the Peace Process," he said.
He said Mr Savage had an "unending love and passion for the art of public relations", saying it made him one of the most sought-after PR advisers in the country for over 40 years.
Mr Savage studied at Queen's College Belfast and, after graduating in 1968, became Director of Social Welfare in the Archdiocese of Armagh, a post he held until 1972.
He was appointed to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). During the Troubles, Cardinal William Conway sent him to welcome the British troops - then seen as peacekeepers - into Northern Ireland.
In 1972, he was seconded to the Catholic Communications Institute at the request of Bunny Carr, then director of the Catholic Communications Centre.
Mr Savage met Terry Prone in the Catholic Communications Institute and received death threats when he first applied to leave the priesthood.
The couple married and had a son, Anton, who followed them into the communications business, together setting up the Communications Clinic in 2008.
Mr Savage joined Bunny Carr's company, Carr Communications, in the mid-seventies - the first company to offer media training to politicians.
In his long and varied career in RTÉ, he served as the first editor of 'Morning Ireland'.
Fr Brian D'Arcy explained that he knew Mr Savage first as a priest when he worked with him in the Catholic Communications Institute.
He officiated at the marriage of Tom and Terry and also baptised Anton.
He stressed how unusual it was to leave the priesthood in that era and to live a public life afterwards, saying: "It was difficult for him and Terry but they knew what they wanted.
"They were entirely upfront, entirely with it in every way. I always admired them greatly - their honesty and their integrity, though it caused them great difficulty.
"But he didn't disappear. He remained extraordinarily high-profile, as did Terry," he pointed out.
He described Mr Savage as being "full of wonderful ideas and very practical".
Mr Savage had made connections in the North through his good friend, Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, and this helped him in his work on the peace process.
"Albert had a sense of letting those who knew the North well get on with it," he explained.
"Tom was good at drawing up a language that was precise but understandable - because everyone needs to know what you're talking about.
"Albert was a man of his word and if he didn't like it, he told you to 'f- off'. Tom would find another word for 'f-off'," Fr Brian quipped.
The funeral will take place tomorrow at Grange in Cooley, Co Louth.