The inspirational partnership of Maeve and Gordon

Wed, Aug 1, 2012, 01:00

The couple gave to each other and to those around them, and their parties were legendary

WHAT FUN, what grace, what generosity, what style: Maeve Binchy and Gordon Snell. Together they determined a life that was remarkable and true: a carefully tended private life devoted to family and friends and their very own fairly rigorous domestic routine; and a public life that was always responsive, prolific, mindful and giving.

They worked together side by side, true mates, their partnership, in itself, hugely inspiring.

Maeve’s columns were, of course, a mainstay of every Saturday edition. There was always at least one snatch of dialogue or anecdote that would crack you up, or give you pause.

Though its format would change from time to time, she never wanted to write about herself – and she was very clear about this, especially as she grew in fame.

Name-dropping? Never. Her interest was in the people she encountered in her travels and her gift was in observing the quirks and idiocies and potential that we all recognise in ourselves.

She loved a good yarn, pure and simple, and relished nothing more than good company and conversation. There was sound advice, too; she enjoyed acting as an agony auntie from time to time, and she always found a way to incorporate plugs for a good cause, whether it was the work of a fellow writer, Arthritis Ireland, Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Hospice Foundation or any one of the number of agencies she supported.

What clarity of purpose. Her fingers did not so much hit the keyboard as slap it like Jelly Roll Morton playing the piano.

For all the hilarity and gossip and speculation and chatter that swirled around the features department in D’Olier Street, when it came to writing, a veil of mighty concentration would come down over her face and she would be off. No preciousness, no delay.

She was a great presence in the office, herself and Mary Maher conspiring to bring new and vital changes to what was quaintly called the Women’s Page. The times were a-changing and, as fast colleagues and friends, their role was inestimably important in ringing them in.

When she moved to London, her stories would arrive by telex and eventually pour out of the fax machine. Then the “new technology” arrived, and she and Gordon took great delight in saying they were donning their lumberjack gear to “log on” as her copy appeared magically on screen.

Punctuation was never a strong point.

Just the flow of words, the snatches of conversation and dialogue, the fable, the humour, the moral tale.

Her legacy runs through The Irish Times to this day.

There was a memorable opening night of her play, Deeply Regretted By, that told a compelling story about London emigration. On the other side of the coin, she was always the first port of call for a candid insight when the British royals were in the news.

She and Gordon took such delight and pride when Circle of Friends “went wide” and Ireland appeared on the big screen. She loved the interminable credits at the end, she said, which of course represented the jobs it created and the general good buzz for our then fledgling film industry.

“Would you like a story from the White House?” she once asked tentatively, having been invited to a one-to-one lunch by an avid fan, Barbara Bush.

When Oprah came calling, first with a team of inquisitors to Dalkey, she found the preparations hilarious.

Was this her only house, they asked? She and Gordon did have another house, in Shepherd’s Bush, London, where there was a memorable celebration of a new rose she had officially named the “Gordon Snell”.

If you had the good fortune to stay there, the visitors’ book was crammed with good advice on local hostelries, and so on, and the shelves were crammed with books, games, films and other diversions.

The visitors’ book may as well have been called How to Live a Good Life Well. Despite loss, despite illness and limited mobility, they kept life to the fore, ever curious, keen to know the latest, how we were doing, how our children were faring.

Their parties, wherever they were, are the stuff of legend – great mixes and gatherums of the great and the good, long days journeying into night, invariably ending with a sing-song.

We’d head to the Dart or maybe for “an office party” in Finnegans, in a great state of giddiness.

Maeve was not one to sing on most occasions – she was, after all, a great and patient listener – but one of her favourites rings clear: Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine.