Monday 20 November 2017

Obituary: Hugh Cooney, Former chairman of Enterprise Ireland

Feb 5, 1952 - Oct 19, 2015

Warning: In a recent interview, Hugh Cooney urged people to get regular check-ups. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Warning: In a recent interview, Hugh Cooney urged people to get regular check-ups. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Just weeks after giving a heartfelt Late, Late Show interview, former Enterprise Ireland chairman Hugh Cooney died at his Dublin home. In that episode, which aired on September 25, he talked openly about his two-year battle with Stage 4 cancer of the colon and liver, earning huge praise for his bravery and fortitude.

He urged people, especially men, to take note of warning signs from their bodies and go for regular medical check-ups, telling the show: "I hope people go away learning from some mistakes I made. Just do it, go for regular check-ups. Be honest when you're preparing questionnaires for doctors - no short-cuts.

"Before I was diagnosed in 2013, I recall two occasions where I passed blood. I didn't listen to my body. Typical man… Too busy. Macho. Infallible. Woke up the next morning, no problem. Ignored it. But that was the body telling me something."

Late, Late host Ryan Tubridy was among those to honour Cooney after he passed away, telling the Irish Independent: "I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Hugh, who I met just a few weeks ago when he was brave enough to share his story. His decision to speak out to highlight men's health was inspirational and showed enormous strength of character. My thoughts are with his family at this time."

Dubbed the "Prince of Insolvency" by peers, Hugh enjoyed a very successful career across both public and private sectors, and was a friend and colleague to many influential politicians and business people. He has been credited with playing a significant role in Ireland's recovery from recession since the economic crash in 2008.

Born in Tullamore, Co Offaly, in 1952, he showed an early passion for football, representing the county at minor level and even captaining Offaly in Croke Park. One former teammate was quoted as describing his defensive style as "a hardy f**ker who let few past him".

Cooney studied Commerce in University College Dublin and later qualified as an accountant, becoming a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Described as a "turnaround specialist", he held senior positions within a number of major organisations, including KPMG (consultant and company director), NCB Corporate Finance (managing director), Arthur Andersen (global corporate finance partner) and BDO Simpson Xavier (head of corporate finance).

In addition, he served a number of semi-state bodies including Aer Lingus, RTÉ and CIE. At one time or another he was a director of Arnotts, chairperson of the Trustees of Arnotts Pension Fund, non-executive chairman of Siteserv and non-executive director for Bio-Medical Research Limited.

There was also a connection with the media: before the Irish Press newspaper group shut down in 1995, Cooney was appointed examiner to both the trading company Irish Press Newspapers Ltd and title-holding company Irish Press Publications Ltd. Unfortunately, his efforts to keep the three papers afloat proved unsuccessful.

His most prominent role of recent years was as chairman of Enterprise Ireland, a post he filled from November 2008 until July 2013. Fianna Fáil Jobs spokesman Dara Calleary TD praised Cooney for taking up the job "at a particularly difficult time in global economics. Through his determination and vision, he managed to grow and develop the organisation".

"His passion for business was evident in his dedication to his role as chairman, and his legacy can be seen in the success of Enterprise Ireland today, which provides support to companies who directly provide employment for over 180,000 people," said Deputy Calleary.

Cooney was a close friend of Calleary's former leader, and ex-Taoiseach, Brian Cowen (a fellow Offaly native). And Cowen's brother Barry - himself a TD and Fianna Fáil Environment spokesman - described Cooney as a "pure gem of a gentleman", adding, "He was a great man, he couldn't do enough for you. He fought his illness with courage, and even in that he made an impact. It is very sad."

During the latter stages of his battle against cancer, Cooney was a tireless and vigorous advocate of health-checks and screening, particularly with regard to colonoscopies for middle-aged men.

He told the Sunday Independent, in an interview shortly before he died, that he had never heard of colonoscopies until he was diagnosed, and now felt that they should be mandatory for over-50s.

"Cancer is a formidable foe," he said, "and avoid it if you can. Why are colonoscopies not mandatory for adults over 50? If I had a colonoscopy at 50, would I have terminal cancer today? The answer is perhaps, but I am damn sure it is a matter of odds. There are a number of people who, if they had them, would be alive today."

He and his family also began fundraising to secure a permanent psychologist for St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, saying: "I was surprised there's no permanent psychologist in St Vincent's private day care.

"I've a background of sport so I kind of got on with it, but I've seen the way people react to cancer and realised that an experienced psychologist on the ward, giving support to patients, families and friends, was something that I wanted to see happen."

A Facebook page, titled 'Hugh Cooney Fundraiser', has been set up to help the effort.

Cooney also spoke in his final weeks about how he had "great memories" of life, and as a result was "at peace with myself… I'm ready to die". Once the cancer had spread and became terminal, he rallied his family around and told them: "It is business as usual. I am a going concern, not a gone concern."

And one major ambition was fulfilled before the end: Hugh saw three of his daughters married.

"I felt it would be an important personal milestone for me. Wouldn't it be lovely to walk my daughters who had yet to marry down the aisle before this road comes to an end? I am glad to say, between December 2014 and June 2015, they all got married to great guys and we had fantastic days at all of the weddings. Just fantastic memories for me."

Hugh Cooney died peacefully at home on October 19. His funeral service was held at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock, Dublin, followed by burial at Shanganagh Cemetery, Shankill.

He is survived by his wife Nuala, children Eva, Fiona, Hugh Jr, Gwen and Laura, grandchildren Oliver, Harry and Finn, and siblings Evelyn, Stan, Paul and Gerald.

Indo Review

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News