It can be amazing how words stand the test of time. A classmate once opined that De La Salle "couldn’t function” without Gina Quigley, the legendary school secretary of almost 40 years who passed away last Wednesday.
When a business opens its doors, it tries to entice customers in with an attractive, welcoming front. Well, Gina was the warm, friendly face of De La Salle, a gentle woman who made it her priority to connect with all she met, colleague, visitor or student.
Remembering names must be an acutely tricky part of working in a place with doors as revolving as those of a secondary school, but the turnover rate didn’t bother Gina. She would meet a face once and log the name in the memory bank, never to be forgotten.
Personally, I knew Gina well. Her son, Evin, is a very close friend and, indeed, we continue to share a pitch together in the colours of Roche Emmets. A relationship formed between my family and theirs, herself and my mother. That’s probably why it was so difficult to make the call to my mother to break the news.
There wasn’t a bad bone in Gina’s body – a giver, she was so genuine, entirely immersed in her work and the community. Hailing from Mansfieldstown in Darver, she spent the majority of her adulthood living in Kilcurry, where she was on the primary school board of management as well as the Community Centre committee.
As her husband, Brendan, said in the several conversations had since her passing, “Gina knew more people around Kilcurry than I did”, and him born, bred and reared along the border, living literally a stone’s throw from the home house.
I remember standing in the courtyard of De La Salle, teary-eyed, glancing at a white bit of paper, my Junior Cert results. Beside ‘French’ there was a letter that had a lump in my throat. But there was Gina, out of nowhere, with a hug and some context.
Three years later, as I headed for a walk on the morning my Leaving Cert grades were to be released, all flustered and anxious – and beginning to wonder if I would be one of life's failures – my mother called me in, tears rolling down her face, whispering: “You got XXX points”. More than enough for my college course of choice.
The guardian angel, defying all rules and regulations, let my mother know to put our minds at ease. The risk in doing so was a lot more than her pension would have been worth, but that was Gina. These regular acts of kindness.
Coming off the bus after a Louth development squad game, and there sat a chicken roll and a drink. Standing at the Lennon Cup final in first year, and her and Evin there to give me a lift home. Needing a chat in school, who better to call in to than Gina in the office.
Sometimes she would come over the intercom instead of Mr Brennan, or Mrs O’Leary, or, latterly, Mr Brady. There’d be an awful rattle around as she gathered the notes until she’d finally come over the airwaves – “Can I have your attention, please?”
It was a quirk of hers, but rather fitting in many ways. You knew it was Gina before she spoke, the same way as you always knew what you were getting with her.
For my 18th birthday, she landed, totally uncalled for, with a card and money.
One teacher used to call her “Miss Gina” and while we used to laugh, with time its adequacy has only grown. Gina was a lady, of that there is little doubt.
It will be of limited comfort to Brendan, Caitriona, Evin and the wider Quigley and Cluskey families, but legends aren’t forgotten. A De La Salle treasure. One of the very best.