Wednesday 22 November 2017

Pat Heneghan: Bill always gave viewers the impression he was so relaxed - but he never let anything creep up on him

The late Bill on set with his grandchildren during RTE’s World Cup coverage
The late Bill on set with his grandchildren during RTE’s World Cup coverage

Pat Heneghan

Bill O'Herlihy was already well-established in the PR business by the time I met him. He had set up Public Relations of Ireland in the mid-1970s and I joined him there in 1980. I had been working at PJ Carroll and we had done a huge sports sponsorship thing, which is how I met Bill.

Of course, we also shared a political connection as we were both very active supporters of Fine Gael.

For the next decade, throughout the 1980s, we worked hard and built a very fine business at Public Relations of Ireland. In 1990, we made a very big decision and went our separate ways. I went off and formed Heneghan Public Relations - that was 25 years ago now.

The PR industry had been establishing itself in Ireland as far back as the 1960s, and there were several big companies out there, but we developed our own business to a fairly successful degree.

Bill had a huge work ethic, and I will always remember him as a hard-working and incredibly professional person, but he was also creative and had a huge journalistic background that stood him in good stead.

He started working in journalism in Cork at the age of 16 or 17, I believe, and he grew through that, going into the 'Prime Time'-type programme of the day (the investigative programme '7 Days'). He was an active member of that investigative team, and out of that he went into PR.

Through it all, Bill's roots remained incredibly important to him. He was a proud and committed Corkman. I remember once we were having lunch at a restaurant, celebrating a very successful week, and I said we didn't do too bad for a couple of culchies.

He told me: "Pat, I'm not a culchie, I'm a Corkman."

He was very gentlemanly, and committed to his wife and two daughters - they were the main thing in his life. His downtime was golf, and he was an active member of Foxrock golf club.

But his focus on soccer grew, particularly during those 1980s years, and he was passionate about that.

He would read everything he could about soccer and was extraordinarily well informed. It was that which gave him confidence to chair the panels as he did. No matter who the guest, or what opinions they had, he would be on top of them, and he would be able to deal with it, because he had done his homework. Like anything else he did, he took a very professional approach to it. He wanted the programme to work, and that was most important to him, that the programme was a success.

That's why he connected to the public - because of his integrity, and because he gave the impression of being very, very relaxed.

But he never let anything creep up on him. I saw him prepare for some of those programmes and he was utterly thorough, and he always knew exactly what he wanted to say.

We worked very closely together, both in PR and politics - we were among the so-called National Handlers in the time of Garret FitzGerald - and we worked before and after that for the party, including John Bruton.

But then we went our separate ways. I retired 10 years ago and so I was out of touch with the PR world.

But I did see Bill two or three years ago, when we enjoyed a lovely lunch in our house. That was one of the last times I saw him, but Bill has still been working hard.

He was in Cannes just last week and, of course, he was at the Iftas on Sunday night, so his death was very sudden and came as a huge shock.

Right until the last, he simply exuded hard work and professionalism. Bill would never have taken anything for granted.

Irish Independent

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