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FitzGerald represented all that was best in Ireland

I KNEW Garret FitzGerald first through the Irish Management Institute (IMI) where I worked from 1959 to 1983, years of profound change for Irish business. Ken Whitaker once said: "The stultifying trade barriers have to be cleared of deadwood."

The Government set up the Committee on Industrial Organisation (1961), with Charlie Murray of the Department of Finance in charge. He said in frustration: "Trying to get Irish businessmen to face change is like pulling teeth."

Garret in those early days was deeply involved in the IMI as a member of the council and executive committee, chairman of the editorial committee and as a lecturer. He phoned me and asked if I'd like to pull a few teeth.

We set off together to visit the IMI regional committees who gladly took on the job of recruiting small groups of chief executives of major local businesses. We had meetings in Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Kilkenny. The meetings were disappointing because businesses and managers change their old ways only when they are up against it. The Common Market would become a reality to them only when we were in it.

But Garret's irrepressible optimism kept me going, even when he asked to drive -- which he did with what might be described as gusto. In the Vienna Woods Hotel in Cork he said he was freezing. I was a little worried and went to see him in his bedroom where he was sitting up in bed with two eiderdowns and a pullover in addition to his pyjamas.

The following evening we were heading back to Dublin in a still night with the sky studded with stars. But when we reached the Grand Canal, the fog was impenetrable. I turned to Garret and said I'd have to stop and hope that it cleared. Garret said: "I'll guide you."

He got out and walked in front of the bonnet the length of the canal, through Ranelagh and to his home in Eglinton Road. Joan met us. I did not dare tell her what her husband had done. She said: "Come in and I'll cook bacon and eggs." I thanked her and said I really wanted to get home. With no Garret to lead me I managed to get to Donnybrook crossroads. I had to stop -- there was no way I could drive across the abyss.

God bless the Irish entrepreneurial spirit. There was a knock on the car window. A young man on a bicycle asked if I'd like him to guide me across. He said: "There's no fog past the church." There was not a trace from there to my home in Stillorgan.

In February 1973, Garret was Minister for Foreign Affairs. Word came from him, asking would I accompany a senior civil servant to Brussels to review the list of Irish applications for the job of A3 in the Commission. I was delighted when I heard my companion was to be Denis Maher from the Department of Finance. Denis, one of our finest civil servants, wrote The Tortuous Path, the definitive account of our entry to the Community. Working with him was a joy for which I had to thank Garret. Denis died aged 58 in December 1984.

At a party in Brussels to celebrate Ireland's accession, he found himself momentarily alone and noticed a man in a grey suit also standing alone. Being sociable, Denis decided to join him. He knew he had seen him somewhere before but could not recall the circumstances or the name. He was about to use a standard Irish greeting -- "I know you but you don't know me" -- when he drew himself up, gave a slight bow and said: "Votre majeste". It struck him that where he had seen the face was on a postage stamp.

When I left the IMI I met Garret on social occasions. The meetings always had the same warmth. He'd had a major operation when we met a few years ago. I asked him how he was. "My doctor told me to take exercise. I've just walked in from my house which I now always do. It takes 29 minutes."

"But that's good for you."

"Is it? I hate it."

"Will you have a glass of champagne?"

"Of course I will."

Vinnie Doyle who died recently was the legendary editor of the Irish Independent. When Charlie Haughey was in Opposition he came to lunch one day. "When you're writing headlines," he asked, "why am I always Haughey and FitzGerald is always Garret?" Vinnie said: "Deputy Haughey, you try putting FitzGerald in there -- count the letters. It won't go, but Haughey goes perfectly."

"I don't believe you," said Haughey.

Garret was always known by his first name. It was a measure of the affection in which he was held. His loss to us all is inexpressibly sad. Our sympathy and love go to his three children and his extended family. God will reward him as the angels lead him to paradise.

Sunday Independent