Corkonians Eddie Hobbs and his wife, Mary Fehily-Hobbs, are a perfect team both at home and in business.
When the friendly Mary Fehily-Hobbs became the 2014 president of Network Ireland, a voluntary organisation for women in business, travelling to events around the country had repercussions for her husband.
"I'm a presidential widower," jokes financial expert and economist Eddie Hobbs, best known for his RTE programmes, Rip Off Republic and Show Me the Money. Eddie has become renowned for his fearlessness in tackling injustice and exposing corruption. As well as running his own financial consultancy, he has written four books, and Mary works with him on the marketing and communications side.
The chatty Cork pair met when he was 18 and she was 19 on a soccer trip organised by the respective insurance companies they were working in. So what made them fall for one another? "Well, it wasn't my height any way," says Eddie. "Mary had a Kate Bush perm, and she was dominating the field. I was terrible and she was brilliant at soccer, but we just clicked and became friends. I spent the next seven months trying to reel her in. We would "accidentally" meet on the street, but there was nothing accidental about it."
Mary says that Eddie's eyes and dark looks captured her attention, and all of a sudden she kept bumping into him on the way to and from work on the Mall in Cork. His persistence paid off, and they were married in Kinsale in 1987 with 400 guests present. These included Mary's parents, the late Kay and Patrick Fehily, and her three older brothers. Mary grew up in Ballineen, West Cork, where her parents had a general merchant's business. Her brother Tom took it over when her dad died from lung cancer at 62, and it has now become the award-winning Wildberry Bakery.
"If I met Mary for the first time tomorrow, I would marry her all over again," says an admiring Eddie. "She is very calm, extremely well-organised and very intuitive, and she knows me better than I know myself. She brings a softness to our wider relationships that I mightn't necessarily bring. I think Mary is a surprise to people when we first meet them, as they don't expect her to be married to me."
Eddie grew up in Cork city, as the second-eldest of Betty and the late Eddie's five children. His father got quite ill when he was young, which ruled out college for Eddie, so he went to work in an insurance company by day, and studied at night.
After their wedding, he chose the Maldives as a surprise honeymoon location for Mary, but the surprise was on him when his exhausted bride went for a lie-down, and he went for a walk and ended up being bitten by a poisonous scorpion fish - he spent the first night jogging around the island to alleviate the pain!
After they were married, they were allowed to sleep in the same bed for the first time when staying over at Mary's parents' house. "The bedroom was very creaky and Mary warned me to be quiet, so I ran in and jumped up and down on the bed for a few minutes," laughs Eddie. "They were all underneath us in the sitting room, and I just did it for a bit of fun."
Eddie and Mary then moved to Dublin, as the company he worked for (now Zurich) wanted him to train staff. He set up his own business in 1991, as the first fee-based financial company in Ireland. "I came up with this revolutionary idea that your job is to act as the agent of the consumer, which immediately put me at loggerheads with the financial industry. It got me into public debates with senior people in the banking and insurance industry, and they lost heavily and the market collapsed. In the mid 90s, I went after the insurance cartel, and took that down with another action under the Competition Act."
Eddie and Mary moved to Kildare in 1994, and have two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 14 to 21. With three at secondary school and the eldest at college, it's a lively, fun household. "Eddie is very caring and a great father, and is a very good mentor for the kids," says Mary. "We have supported each other through everything and protected the kids from it. We are very private with our family, because decisions we make are not necessarily the children's decisions."
Mary rose up the ranks in financial services, at one stage training AIB staff around the country in selling insurance. She took a career break to study the history of fine art, and opened a contemporary art gallery, Simply Art, at their former family home on The Curragh. It used to be a small hotel and people like Winston Churchill and Michael Collins stayed there. After five years, she went back into financial development and marketing alongside Eddie. Mind you, he actually fired her as his own personal agent, as she kept talking to him in the evening about bookings, when he's a morning person.
One of the biggest supports in Mary's professional life has been Network Ireland. As national president, she is looking forward to the forthcoming annual women in business conference. With TV3's Colette Fitzpatrick as MC, speakers include Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, founder of Lily O'Brien's, Jonathan Irwin, CEO of The Jack and Jill Foundation, and our Eddie.
"Network has been great for my own personal development, making friends and contacts, and the support of like-minded women," says Mary. "It has been a busy but fantastic year, and Eddie hasn't seen me! He is so supportive and encouraging though. Eddie is a great cook, and if we ever need to diversify, he could take on the celebrity chefs, and he finds washing the dishes therapeutic. What drives me mad is that he's a stickler for time-keeping, but after 27 years of marriage, he knows now to just sit back and relax!"
Network Ireland's 2014 Women in Business Conference takes place on Friday September 26 at Killashee House Hotel, Kildare. Details on www.networkireland.ie