TK Whitaker ‘a gem amongst men’, funeral hears

Influential civil servant’s son pays tribute to ‘wonderful father and great patriot’

The funeral of TK (Ken) Whitaker at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The late TK Whitaker may have been “a great patriot and Irish man of the 20th century” but to his family he was just “a most wonderful father,” his son Ken said on Friday.

"It was a great honour for us his children and for our families to have been part of his life and have experienced at first hand his warmth, wisdom and generosity," Ken Whitaker told mourners on Friday at his father's funeral Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart, in Donnybrook, Dublin.

Dr Whitaker (100) has been described as the the architect of modern Ireland, renowned for his policy reforms in the mid-20th century, which moved the State from protectionism to free trade. He died at his home in Dublin on Monday.

Ken recalled that his father had few remaining colleagues. He was former secretary general of the Department of Finance, former governor of the Central Bank and a former senator. "Dad asked me some time ago were there any of his contemporaries who were still alive. Regrettably I had to tell him that as he himself was in his 100th year they were very scarce."


Last years kind

“Today, we should perhaps look at the brighter side and celebrate Dad’s long life and all that he accomplished for his family and his country, and give thanks that the last years were kind to him despite his having suffered many losses of family members. It was very hard for him to bear those losses.”

Dr Whitaker was predeceased by his wives, Nora and Mary, daughter Catherine, son Gerald, sister Peggie, and daughter-in-law Priscila.

But he took comfort in his 27 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. “He always had a keen interest in the family.”

In a short poem, Anna Whitaker recalled her grandfather as: “Our grandad Ken, a gem amongst men. A friend to so so many . . . son, husband, father, brother . . . the most kind-hearted and generous man.”

Mass celebrant Fr Lomán MacAodha was a friend of Dr Whitaker’s for more than 30 years. “He was a man of the deepest thanksgiving, despite many setbacks” who “had the art of growing old. It is an art form and I think he perfected it,” said Fr MacAodha.

He was, as he himself had once “pithily put it, ‘a civil servant who did his best’. “He was civil, as in the sense of civilised; civil in the sense of courteous; civil in the sense of concerned. Not for himself but for others, for this country, for its people that he loved so much. And he was a servant, I think, in the guise of the one who said I came to serve, not to be served.”

Upsurges of optimism

Despite the losses in his life, Dr Whitaker felt “fortunate in having such relationships, such warm feelings of love” and said it was “upsurges of optimism” that kept him going.

The chief mourners were his sons Ken, Raymond, David and Brian; daughters-in-laws Maeve, Deirdre, Anne, Teresa and Erika, son-in-law Oran, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Among the large attendance were President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins; Comdt Kieran Carey representing the Taoiseach; Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald; Minister for Finance Michael Noonan; Chief Justice Susan Denham; NUI chancellor Maurice Manning; NUI registrar Attracta Halpin; Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; former president Mary McAleese and Martin McAleese; and former chief justices Ronan Keane and Thomas Finlay.

There were also former government secretaries Dermot McCarthy and Martin Fraser; former secretary-general at the Department of Foreign Affairs Noel Dorr; former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan; former PD leader Desmond O'Malley; former government ministers Michael Woods, Tom Kitt and Mary Hanafin; former Northern Ireland ombudsman Maurice Hayes; former Higher Education Authority chief executive Tom Boland; and former IDA chief executive Kieran McGowan.

The burial was at Shanganagh Cemetery.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times