Lives Lost to Covid-19: Dick Lennon was a trade unionist and keen sportsman

The Dubliner’s ‘greatest satisfaction was in defending the rights of others’

Richard (Dick) Lennon, 1929-2021

Richard (Dick) Lennon, 1929-2021

 

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Richard (Dick) Lennon
1929-2021

Dick Lennon, a trade union official and a gentleman, “fought the good fight”, representing employees and trying to improve their working conditions.

“He was a man who dealt in fairness, and his greatest satisfaction was in defending the rights of others,” said his son Brian.

In a tribute to his father, he said “his life’s passion was found in his work with the then Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), a forerunner of Siptu, where in the late 1970s he was branch secretary of the No 4 catering branch in Liberty Hall”.

Dick, the eldest of eight, was born in 1929. The family lived on North Strand, where they survived a Luftwaffe bombing in 1941 when all the windows in their house were blown in. They were saved by their father, who managed to get everyone under their beds just as the bomb exploded nearby.

His earliest memory was aged three, when his father brought him to view the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1933. “As they watched the procession pass, he nearly didn’t make it to the age of four, having almost toppled from O’Connell Bridge because his dad momentarily took his eyes off him and just managed to save him as he was going over the side.”

It was a happy childhood, with the long summer holiday months spent with his Reilly cousins in distant Howth Junction, where he travelled by tram.

At school Dick played all sports, and on one school sports day alone he won all six events he entered, including high jump, long jump, the 100, 200 and 440 and 880 yards. For his achievement he won a half crown as the best all-rounder, which the school’s head brother told him made him a professional athlete.

He loved soccer too and played with St Francis Xavier boys in Fairview Park while also following his beloved Drumcondra United “Drums” teams of the 1940s and 1950s. Living in the shadow of Croke Park, he delighted in the Dubs six in a row all-Ireland final victories.

Dick’s career path to trade union official was via a range of other jobs, starting as a page at Wynns Hotel in Dublin when he left school, then working as a wood machinist before becoming a hall porter at Jurys Hotel, when he joined the ITGWU as a trade union official.

The dance begins

It was at a dance at the Ierne Ballroom on Parnell Square that he met his future wife, Eileen Salter, a seamstress in Arnotts department store, a job she continued for many years after they were married.

Dick and Eileen moved to Glasnevin and lived there all their married life, where they raised their six children, Brian, Joan, Paul, Richard, Deirdre and Aideen.

As the family grew, Dick kept up his interest in sport and proved himself a handy pitch-and-putt player, playing off single figures for most of his career and becoming captain and later president of Portmarnock Pitch & Putt club.

“He never missed his Sunday morning game, when Eileen would get her only break of the week as he piled their six children into the back of the Morris Minor and took them off her hands for a couple of hours.”

As a trade union official, Dick was very much defined by this role, with no issue ever too small for him. He believed strongly in the inherent rights of workers to a fair wage and decent working conditions.

“He loved nothing better than to go head to head with an employer to right a wrong” or to try to improve employees’ conditions.

One of his favourite events was the Siptu annual general meeting, followed by the staff Christmas party, where he proudly wore his ITGWU pin and spent happy times reminiscing with old comrades.

“Indeed, for many years after he retired, he would continue to try and recruit and organise workers in any restaurant, hotel or bar that he visited.”

Dick’s last few weeks were spent in Clontarf Hospital with Eileen. He was recovering with a heart problem while she was recuperating after breaking a shoulder, and they shared a room.

The family was preparing for them both to return home when Covid-19 hit the hospital and they both contracted the virus. Dick did not recover and died aged 91 on February 13th, but Eileen was with him and a son and daughter were allowed in to see him.

Dick is survived by Eileen, his brothers Gerry and Paddy, sisters Kathleen and Anne, sons, daughters and extended family.