Wednesday 19 December 2018

Obituary: John Monaghan

Distinguished and dedicated academic, and a tireless advocate for social justice who was always generous to others

TIRELESS: John led a life of duty, yet his humour was impish
TIRELESS: John led a life of duty, yet his humour was impish

Professor John Monaghan, Trinity College Dublin, who has died aged 73, was a distinguished academic and social justice advocate. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he educated thousands of engineering students and made significant contributions to manufacturing research and the international manufacturing industry. A selfless contributor to the educational and professional community, he was perhaps most widely known for his sustained leadership in various roles within St Vincent de Paul and social justice advocacy.

Born on August 31, 1944, John Monaghan grew up in Drimnagh and showed considerable intellectual promise from his early days of schooling. Forced by economic hardship to leave school at the age of 13, John found work initially in piano repair, and then car maintenance. Encouraged by his employer to train as an apprentice mechanic, requiring enrolment in Bolton Street College of Technology, he discovered that his curtailed formal schooling and consequent lack of a Vocational Certificate left him without the requisite entry requirements. In a demonstration of his characteristic pragmatism and determination, John continued to attend class and 'forgot' to complete the section of the application form related to second-level qualifications - the only occasion that his large circle of friends and colleagues can ever remember anything remotely approaching dishonesty.

Despite working full-time as an apprentice mechanic, John completed the various stages of academic qualification over the next five years, winning national gold medals for his examination performance. On completion in 1967 he was employed by Bolton Street and rapidly progressed through a 13-year period, furthering his education with three diplomas, and MSc and enrolled in a PhD by research (part-time) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

In 1980 he was appointed as a lecturer to the Department of Mechanical Engineering TCD, where he completed his PhD in 1982, and rapidly established a manufacturing research programme of international significance. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1984 and to professorship in 1998, and awarded fellowship in 1993. During a distinguished research career, he authored almost 200 papers in manufacturing and materials processing - principally metal forming, supervising more than 30 PhD and MSc students, and managing the Materials Ireland Research centre located in Trinity College, bringing in several million euro of research funding and making significant contributions to industrial practice in Ireland, Europe and the USA. In recognition of these contributions he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (DIT, 2013) and the William Johnson International Gold Medal for his lifetime achievements in Materials Processing Research (AMPT, 2014).

John made a significant contribution to the academic community, serving on numerous committees and serving two terms as head of department - overseeing the introduction of the Engineering with Management degree programme and the construction of a new building to facilitate expanding teaching and research activities. He was also exceptionally generous with his time to the wider academic and professional community, acting as an external examiner, evaluator and programme accreditor for many institutions and individuals. Among his legacies were the International Manufacturing Conference, instituted by himself and colleague Garry Lyons, now in its 35th year and the longest continuously running academic conference in Ireland.

A quiet and unassuming man, John had an impish sense of humour and a steely resolve which were less obvious counterpoints to his well-recognised sense of duty, compassion and justice. The latter were evident in the dedication and kindness to his students and colleagues, and the former were displayed when required in the face of any challenge to fundamental fairness and equity. All recall fondly his dedication to teaching, his meticulous attention to detail and his energy - frequently having completed several hours' work and numerous media interviews before most people arrived at their desk. It was with great delight that his colleagues, despite his imploring to 'not make a fuss', finally won over John to honour his contributions with a Festschrift event and book celebrating his achievements in September 2015.

A man of conviction and deep faith, John Monaghan was a tireless worker in the cause of social justice from his early days in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul to his retirement. His skills and energy saw him take numerous roles, not least in being a public and eloquent contributor to radio and television debates on social justice, where his ability to calmly, rationally and empathically advocate on behalf of the socially disadvantaged was valued and impactful, not least in his role in gaining significant increases in children's allowance benefits in various budgets. These contributions to a fairer society were recognised in the 2015 award of the Papal Medal "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice"; the highest honour granted to lay people in the Catholic Church.

In his later years he enthusiastically embraced new hobbies, including wood-turning and flying - to complement his long-standing passion for hillwalking and spending time with his family, particularly during summer holidays in West Cork. The mandatory medical examination to become a private pilot led to the diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2011. During many setbacks and surgeries, John battled bravely and always with good humour, joking that he hoped the surgeons operating with the da Vinci robot had clocked up plenty of hours on their PlayStations. In a war that the disease would ultimately win, John won several battles and continued to contribute extensively in his academic, social, intellectual and personal endeavours.

John Monaghan of Leixlip, Co Kildare, died on Sunday, January 14, following a long battle, bravely fought, with cancer. His funeral took place last Wednesday.

He is survived by his wife Catherine and children Caitriona, Ciara and Conor.

Sunday Independent

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