Editor who played major role in agriculture sector

Sat, Jan 19, 2013, 00:00

Paddy O’Keeffe, Born: May 6th, 1923 Died: January 13th, 2013Farming dominated Paddy O’Keeffe’s life so it was fitting that his memorial service was held in Cork Marts’ Corrin Event Centre this week.

The former Irish Farmers Journal editor, who has died aged 89, was a major figure in the agriculture sector. He was involved in the establishment of FBD and organisations such as the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, the Irish Grassland Association and the Guild of Agricultural Journalists.

O’Keeffe was born in Fermoy, Co Cork. He studied agricultural science at UCD before becoming an agricultural instructor in Louth in 1946. A year later he began working as an adviser at Portrane hospital’s farms and was later promoted to agricultural superintendent.

‘Farmers Journal’

But it was not until 1951 that he entered the public consciousness with his appointment as editor of the Irish Farmers Journal. The newspaper had been established by Macra na Feirme some years earlier but there was little funding to develop it and circulation was just 2,000 copies. Meath farmer John Mooney bought it with the plan of establishing a farming newspaper that would be strong in technical capacity and supportive of farm development.

Ten years later, Mooney and O’Keeffe established the Agricultural Trust. This arose after Mooney was offered £100,000 for the newspaper by Lord Thompson, who was expanding his media empire in Britain.

To protect the newspaper’s future, Mooney decided it should be owned by a charitable trust, with profits used to develop the newspaper and support farming.

By the time O’Keeffe retired as editor in 1988, the weekly newspaper was selling 70,000 copies a week. He continued in the role of chief executive until 1993 and wrote a weekly column until his death. It was often a platform for his uncompromising views on issues such as the welfare state, environmentalists and what he described as “the Dublin media”.

O’Keeffe had a passion for science and progress and believed in the adage that knowledge was power. His energy was legendary and he was always seeking the next challenge.

Back when air travel was less bureaucratic, colleagues recalled that when he was running late for a flight he would ask his secretary to ring Aer Lingus and request that they delay the flight until he got there.

Long past retirement age O’Keeffe was still a familiar figure on the back of Farmers Journal courier Larry Nolan’s motorbike, as he hitched a lift to the train station or airport.

The newspaper’s writers were among the best-travelled journalists in Ireland during O’Keeffe’s editorship as he sent staff all over the world to report on best practice in areas such as dairying, tillage and beef. They included Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness, who said he had a generous spirit that encouraged and supported young people and gave them the leeway to develop their potential.

Establishment of FBD

O’Keeffe was also the founding chairman of the Farmer Business Developments (FBD) insurance company more than 40 years ago. Its chairman, Michael Berkery, described O’Keeffe as “the outstanding man of 20th-century agriculture”. He said the idea behind FBD was to raise money from farmers to provide affordable insurance for the farming community. O’Keeffe oversaw the listing of FBD Holdings on the stock exchange in 1989 and retired as chairman in 1996.

In other roles, he served as chairman of the Agricultural Institute, a precursor to Teagasc, in the 1970s. He was also on the board of Bord na gCapall and a member of the RTÉ Authority.

He was intrinsically linked with Teagasc’s dairy facility at Moorepark in Cork, and in December Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney unveiled the new Paddy O’Keeffe Innovation Centre at Moorepark.

President Michael D Higgins expressed his sadness at O’ Keeffe’s death and said his dedication to the farming community would always be remembered.

O’Keeffe’s interest in scientific developments continued until the end and he requested that his body be donated to science.

O’Keeffe was predeceased by his first wife, Anne, and is survived by his second wife, Jane, his children, Margaret, Josephine, Elizabeth and Patrick, their spouses, his 12 grandchildren and sister, Joyce.