Saturday 25 May 2019

Obituary: Maeve Barry

Campbell Spray gives a personal tribute to an extraordinary friend and fixer

Special: Maeve Barry
Special: Maeve Barry

In the same month and year, February 1979, that I came to Dublin for the first time, a widowed mother of two began work with Don Hall, the now legendary public relations guru.

Last Wednesday on a hot day in St Sylvester's Church in Malahide, I was privileged to attend the funeral mass of Maeve Barry, the wonderfully caring sidekick and fixer extraordinaire for Don through all the years of representing everything from the likes of Irish Ferries, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Texaco - especially their famous children's art competition.

Just as Maeve would do anything for you, I would do anything for Maeve. Attend any event, read every release and take any call. She never asked you to compromise yourself; there was a total professional approach. And if you attended anything or helped in any way, a lovely handwritten note would come from her and Don. They never forgot anyone and at Christmas dinners for Mercedes, journalists who had long since retired were invited back and treated with the same respect as the most influential present-day writer.

But Maeve was more than a contact, she was a friend who cared about you and for you. That sharing and caring came to the pinnacle of grief when a year after my son Daniel died in 2015, her daughter Sinead succumbed to cancer aged 44. We had many conversations sharing our sorrow and I don't think Maeve really ever recovered from the loss until last weekend when the same disease took her.

It left her surviving daughter Niamh to tell the congregation at Malahide last week in a massively moving and dignified speech of how Maeve had brought the girls up single-handedly with such strength, love and conviction. Niamh had now lost her father, sister and mother but knew that they were all guiding her in what she did.

Maeve was born on April 21, 1944, the twin sister of Ann and daughter of May and Jack Caulfield. She grew up on the Old Howth Road, Clontarf, and attended Loreto College, North Great George's Street.

Though she had a number of employments before entering the PR business, perhaps the most significant of these was her early life with Cadbury's where she met (and later married), Jim Barry, who was a senior production engineer.

The newlyweds came to live in Malahide where she gave birth to two daughters - Sinead and Niamh.

The first tragedy Maeve had to endure in her life was the death of her husband at the young age of 34. Left with two very young children - and no longer working with Cadbury's having resigned to raise her two daughters - she joined Don Hall in the PR business where she was to become an indispensable companion and colleague - in so many respects, the mainstay of their business.

As Don told me the day after the funeral: "Maeve was a wonderful woman. She was one of the old school, the kind that are not made any more. It was she who set down many of the standards and routines that we work by today. We loved her and we are completely lost without her."

At the funeral I hugged Don, his loss must be immense. As it must be to Ashley Hall and Maximilien McKenna in the office.

It would have been quite a picture, two big men in hats hugging and kissing. But that was Maeve - she brought out the best in you and put manners on the worst of us.

The power of Niamh's speech from the altar showed that the love and strength started at home and effortlessly continued into her job.

Bless you Maeve. You were so special.

Sunday Independent

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