Betty Searson obituary: Arts administrator and RDS stalwart

Hard working and innovative executive who helped establish the Crafts Council of Ireland

As RDS arts officer Betty Searson was involved in bringing to Dublin international musicians, quartets, trios, duos, famous orchestras and soloists.

As RDS arts officer Betty Searson was involved in bringing to Dublin international musicians, quartets, trios, duos, famous orchestras and soloists.

 

June 28th, 2021
July 20th, 1923

Betty Searson, who died after a brief illness , made significant contribution to cultural life in Ireland as a librarian, arts administrator and latterly secretary of the Crafts Council of Ireland.

Starting as an assistant to Desmond Clarke the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) chief librarian, in the 1960s she went on to to organise many of the societies’ events and lectures at a time when the RDS played a pivotal role in cultural life, in the absence of many State-funded organisations in existence today.

She was instrumental in the establishment of the Crafts Council of Ireland under the auspices of the RDS and worked with it for many years. In retirement she became involved in two major projects: the Dublin International Piano Competition; and The Irish Times-Aer Lingus literature prizes.

Born in Dublin to publican Joseph Searson – a publican (and a member of the publican dynasty) and his wife Cecilia (nee Coogan) – Betty was one of a family of four: Maureen (Murphy), Therese (Kilingly) and a brother Patrick. She was educated by the Dominican nuns in Eccles Street and went on to UCD where she graduated with a BA in English and History. This was followed by the post-graduate diploma in Librarianship.

Searson acquired work experience in the Library of the RDS during her library-school year. The following summer she was invited to do three months unpaid work in the RDS Library which she accepted. Some months later she received a letter from the RDS saying there would be a vacancy for an assistant in the library and inviting her to apply. She was interviewed in 1945 by a distinguished RDS panel, including Judge William Wylie, Mark Leonard and Prof Felix Hackett, and was offered the job at a salary of £2 per week which she accepted.

Some years later Searson decided to take time out from her post at the RDS to gain American library experience. She was successful in obtaining a post at the Library of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia which she enjoyed. She was offered a permanent post there at the end of her six months, but she decided to return to Dublin.

As a librarian Searson became active in the Library Association of Ireland and was secretary of the newly formed special libraries section initiated by the late John Hurst, librarian of Trinity College. In 1965 when Desmond Clarke – the RDS chief librarian – became responsible for the cultural and scientific activities of the RDS, Searson became his assistant.

When Clarke retired in 1974 Searson became responsible for organising the society’s musical events and lectures. In addition, she took over Clarke’s duties for the RDS crafts competitions and exhibitions. She was also secretary to the committee of industries, arts and general purposes of the society.

At Betty Searson’s funeral the gathering was told that she enjoyed a happy and long life.
At Betty Searson’s funeral the gathering was told that she enjoyed a happy and long life.

During her working life Searson organised lectures in the RDS by many distinguished visitors including Micheál Mac Liammóir, Siobhán McKenna, Mary Lavin, Moira Shearer, Seamus Heaney, Maeve Binchy, Alistair Cooke and Joyce Grenfell. Searson became friendly with many of these personalities and one never knew what interesting people would be present at dinner parties in her Blackrock home.

As RDS arts officer Searson was also involved in bringing to Dublin international musicians, quartets, trios, duos, famous orchestras and soloists. This was all before the opening of the National Concert Hall. One of the highlights of Searson’s career was organising the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the RDS in November 1977 and hiring a Boeing 747 to bring them to Dublin.

Committed individual

Searson always took care of visiting musicians and lecturers including former British prime minister Ted Heath when he came to the RDS to conduct an orchestra. The story of her transporting Julian Lloyd Webber and his cello in her little mini from Dublin Airport was interesting, as was a chance encounter with Roy Keane in the sauna at Parknasilla.

Searson worked closely with the late Muriel Gahan, the first woman to be elected RDS vice-president. It was Gahan who instigated the revival of the society’s craft competition and exhibition in 1968. She was also a strong driving force in the formation of the Crafts Council of Ireland and its first home in the RDS with Clarke as honorary secretary.

At Searson’s funeral her nephew David Murphy said that his aunt Betty had a very happy and fulfilled long life. She regularly attended events in the RDS, or at the National Concert Hall. She also attended the Wexford Opera Festival every year. Searson had a large circle of friends and hosted an annual drinks party on the Sunday before Christmas which was always a delightful occasion.

She is survived by her Murphy nephews and niece, Paul, David, Mark and Anne (Hennessy) their spouses and families, and by her Searson nephew and nieces in the UK, Lloyd, Laura, Orla and Rachel and their families as well as her close friends.