29 Sept 2022

Tributes paid following death of former Tullamore Tribune Editor in his 93rd year

Tributes paid following death of former Tullamore Tribune Editor in his 93rd year

The launch of the Tullamore Tribune in May 1978: Geoff Oakley (G.V.) seen here second from left. From l to r: Buddy Burke, Geoff, Phyllis Byrne, and James I. Fanning.

THE death has taken place of the founding Editor of the Tullamore Tribune, Geoff Oakley in his 93rd year.

Geoff, who was predeceased last year by his beloved wife, Dorothy, was a skilled local journalist whose career spanned almost half a century.

A native of Birr, Geoff began his career with the now-defunct Offaly Chronicle in the mid-1940s. When the Midland Tribune, under proprietor the late J.I. Fanning, purchased the Chronicle Geoff transferred over to the Tribune where he spent the remainder of his career.

Initially he covered the north Tipperary area but later transferred to Tullamore and he was an obvious choice as the founding Editor of the Tullamore Tribune when it was launched in 1978.

Geoff made a singular contribution to the saving of the hospital in Tullamore in the mid-1970s with the help of the Offaly Committee to save the hospital. Week after week the articles poured out and the pressure that was piled on secured the hospital and paved the way for the new hospital from the late 1990s.

Geoff saw in groups such as Junior Chamber all that was good about civic life and reported its doings and that of so many other voluntary bodies.

A lover of music he was a strong member of the Tullamore Gramophone Society and often gave the recital. He and Dorothy were keen travellers across the globe as backpackers. They were both pivotal members of OSPCA and many animals found good homes as a result of their work. 

Ger Scully, who succeeded as Editor of the Tullamore Tribune in September 1994 on Geoff's retirement, in a tribute, said the deceased had been a pioneer of local journalism and his dedication and hard work ensured the Tullamore Tribune quickly became firmly established as the biggest selling weekly newspaper in north and mid Offaly.

Michael Byrne, Secretary of Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society said: “Geoff’s work as a newspaper man will stand to him well into the future. All the more so in this digital age when his articles can be so easily accessed. Those in the Tullamore Musical Society have reason to thank him for his fine published history and all his reviews of their annual show. Now Offaly History can get to do a short review of GVO, but it can only be paltry beside that of the quiet sincere man who made such a great impact in County Offaly and all of it was for good. Geoff was also a national figure in amateur musical circles as an adjudicator for AIMS and editor of the AIMS newsletter. His reviews of local plays were awaited with terror one expects. While never harsh he did not confuse journalism with parochialism.”

Denis Doherty, former CEO of the Midland Health Board and PRO of Tullamore Lions club, said: “At our club meeting last evening, the members were saddened to learn of the passing of Geoff Oakey. From its foundation, Geoff saw the value of having a Lions Club in our community and was always supportive of our endeavours to serve our community. In his retirement, he continued his support of the club and contributed a number of fine articles to the Tullamore Annual. Geoff and his late wife, Dorothy, contributed so much over the years in ways that helped Tullamore achieve the status it now enjoys as one of Ireland’s best places to live. They will be sadly missed: may they rest in peace.”

Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists who worked alongside Geoff as a journalist in the Tullamore Tribune in the 1980s, penned the following appreciation.

“Geoff Oakley was something of an enigma. In a distinguished career he was passionate about news: cultured, wise and opinionated his integrity and sense of honour defined Geoff in his public role as Editor of the Tullamore Tribune.
Yet Geoff was in many ways a shy man who shunned the limelight, seldom speaking in public or giving interviews to the national media on issues of local interest.

"For many years Geoff was the Tullamore Tribune and his vision and commitment were key ingredients in the success of the paper. J I Fanning, proprietor and editor of the Midland Tribune, was nominally editor when the sister newspaper was founded in 1978 but from the beginning, Geoff was the guiding spirit - his formal appointment as editor merely confirmed his status.

"From a dark pokey two desk newsroom in Church Street, Geoff churned out reams of copy on a noisy, battered manual typewriter which, like the office itself, had seen better days.

"David Pate had never been in Tullamore before Fanning offered him the job of reporter on the fledgling title. A young Scot reared in Dublin and educated at TCD, Dave was an unlikely recruit but Pate, who took early retirement as as a senior producer with CBC Nova Scotia last year, and Oakley made a formidable team. Mary T Bracken made up the office triumvirate for much of his rein.

"When  David moved to pursue a successful career in the national media I succeeded him in the Tribune having worked during breaks from college. Geoff was a mentor to me and to many young journalists, insisting on the highest standards of accuracy.

"He had flawless shorthand and placed a premium on attention to detail. His report on the inquest into the death of Fr Niall Molloy is an outstanding example of his reporting while his profile of Thomas MacDonagh in the Midland Tribune's supplement to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, "A noble life and a proud death" serves as a reminder of his elegant writing style.

"A young journalism student on placement in Tullamore was once severely chided for failing to ask the name of a family dog who featured in a Richard May photograph which accompanied a well , written human interest story.

“Are you joking” he declared as Geoff instructed him to ring the family, “that’s just crazy”.

"Geoff firmly but patiently explained that the dog was a family member and must be named. Years later I met the now matured journalist in a Dublin pub. Then working in London he said the dog episode had taught him a valuable life lesson!

"Social historians have reason to appreciate Geoff's obsession with fully captioned pictures, something which sometimes challenged the patience of Richard May, Joe O'Sullivan and Mary Dunne but he always appreciated their professionalism.

"As an editor, Geoff showed leadership in challenging the consensus. He was a champion of constitutional politics and abhorred violence, often courageously challenging the IRA.

"While supportive of the campaign to save the then Tullamore General hospital he incurred the wrath of some activists by his refusal to oppose every proposal for redevelopment of specialist facilities at regional level, preferring a more nuanced and strategic analysis.

"His editorial stance on social issues, such as the divorce and 8th amendment referendums, was equally courageous while his absolute commitment to fairness meant that all sides were accorded coverage.

"All who knew him, including his readers, knew of his love for and devotion to Dorothy. Despite his natural reserve their holidays were the subject of endless quirky features, always written with style and humour. Geoff and Dorothy made a wonderful couple and enriched the lives of so many, humans and animals through the OSPCA.

"As an editor Geoff Oakley's greatest contribution was to develop a paper which, despite limited resources, reflected the diversity of life in the community. For him, local news mattered. It still does!”

Geoff's remains will repose at O'Reilly's Funeral Home, Harbour Street, Tullamore, on Thursday evening from 6pm until Funeral prayers at 7pm. Funeral Service on Friday afternoon in St. Catherine's Church of Ireland, Hop Hill, Tullamore at 2.30pm. Interment afterwards in St. Catherine's Cemetery, Clonminch, Tullamore. Please adhere to Government guidelines during Reposing and Funeral Service times. Funeral Service can be viewed live of St. Catherine's Church of Ireland Webcam.

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