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Saturday 3 December 2016

Frank O'Rourke

Charles Lysaght remembers a visionary bank boss with a passion for music

Published 28/08/2011 | 05:00

Frank O'Rourke was a pivotal figure in repositioning the Bank of Ireland during the Seventies and Eighties so as to enhance its popular appeal. He originated the sponsorship of the GAA All-Stars award in 1978, the success of which changed utterly the image of the bank among a large sector of the population which had viewed it with some reserve.

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Conservative forces within the board conspired to deny him the post of chief executive in favour of Guinness brewer Mark Hely-Hutchinson, who was already a non-executive director. It was typical of Frank, ever a team player, that he became Mark's most faithful lieutenant, their bond copperfastened by a shared love of music.

By their acquisition of the ICS building society they forced the government to bring to an end the tax advantages building societies previously enjoyed in the savings market. The bank prospered.

Although a number of overseas acquisitions that went sour in the late Eighties held the bank back for a time, the foundation was laid for soundly based growth in Ireland under Frank's protege Pat Molloy during the early years of the Celtic Tiger. Frank's background conditioned him for the role he played.

Born in New York in 1931, he returned in childhood to Cavan and went to St Patrick's College, to whose teachers he remained ever grateful. A golden moment of his teenage years was a winning point he scored for Cavan Slashers in the county's minor football championship. It was the Cavan grandee Lord Farnham who recommended Frank as a likely lad to Sir John Keane the bank's governor -- that was how recruitment was managed in those days.

Longford was an early posting. Through his involvement in amateur dramatics, there Frank met his wife Rose. They had a family of three boys and two girls. He was too industrious and reliable to be 'left out in the sticks' for long and he spent most of his career at head office close to its central management. He had a fine appreciation of the characters, some bizarre, who were part of that. A year at the Harvard Business School broadened his perspective.

I came to know Frank on the board of the ICS building society, of which he became chairman after his retirement from the bank. Ever courteous and affable, he blended together a divided board giving an audience for all viewpoints and insisting that the board's position was respected by the parent company. A man of high standards, he still managed to avoid the excessive sense of their own rectitude that was a feature of the bank's culture.

Ever innovative, he was, in his retirement years, a lead player transforming his beloved Dublin Grand Opera Society into Opera Ireland. He was involved with the GAA planning the new Croke Park. More controversially, he guided Dun Laoghaire golf club, where he was a regular player, in the decision to dispose of its course to a developer and acquire a larger home near Bray.

In 1997 his wife, Rose, with whom he shared his passion for music, died suddenly in the night. He learned the harsh truth that great happiness long enjoyed casts its own sad shadow. He had to build his life anew; he left our board, where he was irreplaceable. He left Killiney for a new home in Greystones.

Frank found consolation is his love of music, especially Wagner. He read philosophy. Things Italian were a new interest, and he spent holidays there. His loving family were close at hand and he rejoiced in his many grandchildren as they grew up. He braved his final illness with a serenity that excited the admiration of those around him.

He is survived by his three sons and two daughters.

Sunday Independent

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