Saturday 16 December 2017

Obituary: Thomas Barry Flynn

The serial inventor with a great sense of humour will be missed by many

Memories: Barry Flynn
Memories: Barry Flynn

Noel Smyth

The next time you pass through an airport, hospital or any other building and find yourself stopped in your tracks, or otherwise diverted by a small, yellow, plastic man you might take a moment to remember its inventor, Thomas Barry Flynn.

As far as ideas go, these protective barriers which cordon, corral and otherwise keep us out of harm's way are beautiful both in their simplicity and in their effectiveness. And they're a typical example of the genuine brilliance, Barry, as he was known to his family and to his many friends, exhibited throughout his life as a serial inventor and entrepreneur.

Alongside the legions of 'little yellow men' Barry Flynn sent out to guard public spaces here in Ireland and across the world, were his invention and development of children's high chairs, kiddie carts and a range of domestic and industrial products. His most recent innovation, 'Hand & Handle Wet Wipe dispensers' are currently being rolled out across petrol stations in the UK. The development of new ideas and inventions and securing of the crucial patents for his results formed the foundation of Barry's daily work. He never tired of looking for new ways to make all our lives easier. And to him, making the best product for the right purpose was always more important than making money.

Barry Flynn was born on October 29, 1946, at St Columbanus Road, in Churchtown, in south county Dublin. The second eldest of Tommy and Ethna Flynn's nine children, he left school at the age of 15.

His first job as an apprentice with the Otis lifts company came about after his mother spotted an advertisement for the role in a newspaper and took it upon herself to apply on her son's behalf.

Having secured the job, Barry worked for Otis for a number of years before setting up a lift company with his friend and business partner, Ollie Kelly. Some 30 years later, in 1990, he and Ollie sold that business to his original employer, Otis, which by then had evolved into a hugely-successful, operational fitting and servicing company.

Following that deal, Barry formed Addgards, where his innovative and lateral thinking continued to shine through right up until his untimely death, aged 69, on August 9 last. The business continues to be operated by his daughter, Emma.

Given his sheer ability and drive, Barry Flynn could easily have sought and secured a high profile for himself. But he never wanted that. He had already found the love of his life, Barbara, and married her in 1972. Together for the last 43 years, they had five children - Lorraine, Emma, Tom, Brian and Claire; and eight grandchildren - Abbie, Cian, Lauren, Callum, Isaac, Christian, Dara and Alice.

While Barry's family and his many friends were what he valued most in his life, he still, it must be said, got something of a kick from playing with the 'big shots'.

I still recall with a smile the day 25 years ago when myself and Barry played in a golf competition against Dermot Desmond and the then CEO of Greencorre, David Dilger, at Delgany Golf Club in Wicklow.

While Dermot and David were both big hitters of the ball and trying to drive it over the trees, we played the more conservative game and won. Afterwards, Barry quipped about how he loved playing with the big shots. Of course he wasn't just referring to Dermot and David's ability on the golf course, but to their standing in the business world. There was that delightful double meaning in what he was saying.

Because Barry never took himself too seriously, he could never be accused of offending anyone else, and because he usually began most of his stories with some self-deprecating tale about himself, using his sharp wit and his accomplished mimicry, he literally got away with saying anything to anybody.

Apart from his devotion to his family and dedication to his business, Barry Flynn's generosity to charity was boundless. But it wasn't simply about giving money; he also gave his time, travelling with me to Calcutta with the Lotus Child Charity to build a school and from there to Darjeeling where he assisted with a project seeking to save young children from being trafficked. He later travelled to Haiti with one of his best friends, Kieran Finane, to assist on a building project following the earthquake there.

Outside of his family, business and involvement in charity, Barry was a keen golfer, talented guitarist and a singer who could take off the gravelly voice of Johnny Cash to a tee or alternatively find himself being compared to Neil Diamond for his rendition of Sweet Caroline. He knew the words of more than 1,000 songs and loved to perform with the guitar, which he always kept in the boot of his car "just in case".

A soccer player from the age of five, first with Broadford Rovers and later Shelbourne, he followed Ireland's international fortunes from Japan to Israel and everywhere in between up to and including the recent Euros in France.

When he wasn't at home in Dublin, Barry spent every summer with his five adoring children and eight grandchildren in Brittas Bay at Ballinacarrig Park (now Potter's Point), where the family have had a mobile home for the past 29 years.

There really was nothing missing from Barry Flynn's life, except more time.

He truly was a man for all seasons.

May he rest in peace.

Sunday Independent

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