Sunday 18 August 2019

Funeral of 'exceptional' businessman

'Magical' memories of a loving grandfather with remarkable talents, charm and his sense of fun

The remains of Feargal Quinn make their way along the seafront on their way to St Fintan’s church in Sutton for his funeral Mass. Photos: Gerry Mooney
The remains of Feargal Quinn make their way along the seafront on their way to St Fintan’s church in Sutton for his funeral Mass. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Averil Power, Ronan Mullen, Sean and Trish Gallagher. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Feargal Quinn's son Eamonn, daughter Zoe and his wife Denise arrive at the church. Photos: Gerry Mooney

Alan O'Keeffe

The extraordinary talents and humanity of Feargal Quinn were recalled at his funeral in Dublin yesterday.

His son Eamonn, his friend and colleague Vincent O'Doherty, and two of his 19 grandchildren spoke movingly of the former senator and founder of the former Superquinn supermarket empire.

President Michael D Higgins was among a large number of people from public life who attended the Requiem Mass in Saint Fintan's Church in Sutton. Flags flew at half mast at the nearby shopping centre which the businessman established many years ago.

He died peacefully at his home in Howth last Wednesday, aged 82. Renowned for customer service and innovation, he sold the family business for €420m in 2005. He was also a former chairperson of An Post.

Parish priest Fr Liam Lacey said Feargal Quinn established himself in the consciousness of the Irish people through his wonderful supermarket business. He cemented his reputation by his entrepreneurship and public service.

"His concern for people led him to enter public life as a senator and his contribution was immense. It is hard to find anyone that has a critical word to say about him. That, indeed, is some tribute to a person whose Christian values underpinned his life.

"He had a far-reaching effect and was not bounded by a narrow vision. He was innovative in business and wanted people to succeed," he said.

As well as his strong beliefs, he will be remembered for his great ability, charm and sense of fun, he said.

Mr O'Doherty, who was chairman of the former Superquinn group for more than 30 years, said Mr Quinn had an "outstanding personal contact" with all his staff, adding "it was extraordinary that he remembered all their first names and the names of their spouses in many cases.

"He had a magic authenticity," he said. "He gave many young people trust and responsibilities and they rose to the occasion."

A great many of the 12,000 employees of Superquinn over a 40-year period benefited from his management style, he added, pointing out that Mr Quinn treated everyone in his organisation the same - be it the charge hands or people in top management.

The self-confidence he gave to his employees "worked miraculously", Mr O'Doherty said.

"His passion was for the business to succeed and for people to find their work to be attractive, interesting and productive. He would manage without managing," he said.

His son Eamonn spoke warmly of their family life as he was growing up. He spoke of the enormous sense of fun that his father brought to their childhood.

"As a child, I remember being shocked to learn that other people's dads came home for tea and they didn't work on Saturdays. At times, we didn't see that much of him, but when we did, it was always full-on.

"He was someone who squeezed a lot into the day - some of it was work, some was fun, some was helping others," he said.

He remembered his father working a 90-hour week at Christmas and then coming home and taking him to a disadvantaged area of the inner city and handing out hampers. This annual practise developed into the Mansion House dinner on Christmas Day for the homeless of Dublin.

"Following the sale of the business, he mandated that we created the family foundation, not for a specific cause, but because it was the right thing to do," he said.

He said his father challenged conventional wisdom, and was truly exceptional, irreplaceable and inspirational to all, he said.

During the Troubles in the 1980s, when kidnappings of wealthy individuals were increasing, he bravely ignored advice to move out of the family home for security reasons.

He thanked Ann O'Broin for her many years of excellent service to his father as his personnel assistant.

The late businessman's French granddaughter Alexandra de Schonen said: "He was the most magical of grandfathers. He had the ability to transform a garden or beach for all of his grandchildren into a most-enchanted place because he knew the Sweet Fairy."

Laughter filled the church when she spoke of how her grandfather showed her around the Senate one day.

"He made me believe politics was the friendliest place to work, where collaboration and friendship always surpassed rivalry and competition," she said to widespread chuckles in the congregation - with President Higgins joining in.

"In his world, kindness was the most powerful weapon. He was an enchanter who dissipated conflict and sprinkled joy wherever he passed.

"As children, we knew our grandfather was a genius who had come up with the most ingenious idea of playhouses for kids in supermarkets. I still believe, today, that his genius relied on the fact that he kept his childhood spirit and managed to share this simplicity and joy with everyone around him," she said.

Then, looking towards his flower-covered coffin, she declared: "You taught me that being Irish was putting a smile on, a contagious smile, whatever the occasion."

His granddaughter Emilie Quinn said of her grandfather: "He made every single person he spoke to feel like they were the most important person in the world because he had a genuine love and connection with them. He taught us that every single person on this planet is equal and they should be treated the same, whether you were the CEO or the toilet cleaner.

"He believed in people, even when they didn't believe in themselves. He had a playful nature, he loved a challenge, and got the best out of everyone, pushing when he knew what they were capable of. "He taught me the importance of taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone and that nothing worthwhile ever came easy. Hard work and challenge were key principles for success... he dedicated his life to his work, his country and his family."

Chief mourners included his wife Denise, his daughters Gilliane and Zoe, sons Eamonn, Stephen and Donal and sister Eilagh and his 19 grandchildren.

Among those attending were Commdt Caroline Burke, representing the Taoiseach, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, Senator Michael McDowell, Seanad chair Denis O'Donovan, broadcaster Micheal O'Muircheartaigh, Padraic White, former managing director of IDA Ireland, and Denis Naughten TD, former presidential candidates Sean Gallagher, Gavin Duffy and Peter Casey. A former Superquinn employee, Fr Brian McKittrick, concelebrated the Mass.

Sunday Independent

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