Former Indian civil servant and governor of The Irish Times Trust

 

James Walmsleywho for 20 years was chairman and managing director of the book sellers Eason Son, has died in his 96th year. He was a leading figure in Dublin's business community, though always unassuming, who devoted much of his spare time to helping others, to gardening and to his large, beloved family.

Walmsley was born on the family farm in Kilkeel, Co Down in 1912, one of four brothers born to John and Peggy (Fairbairn). A scholarship brought him to Campbell College, Belfast where he was a keen rugby player who captained the cup final team and brought it to Dublin to play Blackrock College, the first Northern Ireland schools team to travel south for a match.

Scholarship also brought him to Trinity College, Dublin. He was a first class honours student in mental and moral science for a while but graduated in 1935 with a first in mathematics and was awarded a gold medal. At Trinity he met his wife-to-be Molly Eason through their involvement in the Trinity Players. They both retained an interest in the theatre thereafter. Samuel Beckett had rooms above him in Trinity's New Square.

He returned to Campbell College to teach for a year but with an interest in travel he decided to try for a position in the Indian civil service. With that in mind he studied Indian law at Oxford and then entered the competition. Out of 255 candidates, he was one of 15 to be chosen.

He and Molly moved to India in 1937 and it proved to be a more diverse and hectic experience than they perhaps imagined. Still only in his 20s he was in charge of a territory in Bihar equal to the size of Ireland and when the war started he found himself running a refugee camp of 30,000 inhabitants. Their three children, Malcolm, Elizabeth and Joanna were all born in India.

Walmsley stayed in India until independence and then returned to Dublin where he took up a position in Eason's in which Molly's family were large shareholders. He became a director in 1948 and succeeded his father-in-law Jack Eason as managing director. He was also chairman for 20 years.

When asked what he did for a living, he liked to repeat his father-in-law's joke that he sold newspapers on the corner of O'Connell Street but in truth the company modernised, grew and diversified considerably under his stewardship.

In recognition of this he served as vice-chairman of the Federation of Irish Employers (now Ibec), was elected president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce in 1971 and was a board member and chairman of the Rotunda Hospital. He was chairman of the Trinity Trust and had an honorary degree conferred on him by TCD.

In 1974 he became a founder governor of The Irish Times Trust and a director of The Irish Times Ltd; an astute move by the company perhaps in having its biggest customer on the board. Walmsley was an always-pleasant but active contributor, a keen reader of newspapers and possessed knowledge on an encyclopaedic scale.

The Eason connection lives on however. Walmsley's son-in-law, Michael Ryder, is the current chairman, his nephew Andrew is a director, another nephew Harry works in the Belfast office and his grandson Tim is manager of the Reads subsidiary in Nassau Street.

His son Malcolm did not follow him into the business; he is professor of astrophysics in the University of Florence.

The Walmsleys loved to travel, especially to St Mathieu in France but equally they loved their cottage at Carrowmore Lake, Co Mayo.

They were devoted to their family of three children, 10 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren as much as they were devoted to each other.

His wife, Molly, predeceased him four years ago and in 2005 declining health obliged him to take up residence in the Bloomfield Care Centre near Rathfarnham but he ventured out often, back to his house or out to lunch with family and friends.

At his funeral service last Monday the soloist sang the The Mountains of Mourne. He was cremated at Mount Jerome and next week the family, as he wished, will bury his and his wife's ashes beside his father and mother, close to the Mournes.

James Andrew Walmsley: born October 4th, 1912; died May 9th, 2008