Death of former Irish Times managing director Louis O’Neill

Courageous executive ‘steered business through some of its most difficult years’

 Louis O’Neill addresses staff at a presentation to mark his retirement in the Irish Times newsroom. Photograph: Frank Miller

Louis O’Neill addresses staff at a presentation to mark his retirement in the Irish Times newsroom. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Louis O’Neill (83), former group managing director and chief executive of The Irish Times, died yesterday at St Vincent’s hospital Dublin following a long illness.

He is survived by daughters Deirdre, Jean, Denise and son Stephen. His wife Vera is deceased.

Mr O’Neill worked at The Irish Times for 42 years, from 1957 when he began work in the accounts department, until retirement in 1999. He became chief accountant, office manager, general manager/director, managing director, group managing director and chief executive. He was a director of the Irish Times Trust on its formation in 1974 and in 1985 was a founder member of the National Newspapers of Ireland of which he was chair for seven years.

A member of the Advertising Standards Authority, in 1999 he received the McConnell Perpetual Award in recognition of personal and public service on behalf of or through advertising. The award had only been presented 24 times since its inception in 1954. On his retirement in 1999 the National Union of Journalists hosted a rare lunch for Mr O’Neill.

Outside of work his interests included sailing, golf and horse racing.

Liam Kavanagh, managing director of The Irish Times, described Mr O’Neill as a man “who remained greatly respected in the business for his contribution even after retirement”.

Eoin McVey, who served on The Irish Times board with Mr O’Neill for a period last night recalled a man who was “very supportive and approachable. We all had huge regard for him.” He also remembered Mr O’Neill’s courage in buying a colour printing press for the newspaper in the mid-1980s when no one else had one. “It was a brave thing to do and made a huge difference.”

In a tribute last night Conor Brady, editor of The Irish Times when Mr O’Neill retired, said he “steered the business of The Irish Times through some of its most difficult years with skill, acumen and no small degree of courage. It is fair to say that without his stewardship the company would probably not have survived the world economic crisis that followed the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970s. And along with the late Tom McDowell, he brought it to the peak of its commercial strength before he retired in 1999.”

Mr O’Neill, he said, “insisted on financial discipline. But he also understood that without creativity and innovation a media company cannot thrive. Even in the most straitened of times he would somehow find ways of funding the editorial initiatives that enabled the newspaper to develop and grow.”

He remembered how “a quiet-spoken, almost shy, manner belied a character of steel. He rarely showed an emotional side. But when angered he could be formidable. The extended Irish Times family owes him a great debt of gratitude.”

Mr O’Neill’s remains will repose at Carnegie’s Funeral Home, the Crescent, Monkstown Co Dublin on Sunday afternoon between 3pm to 6pm. Removal on Monday morning will be to St Mary’s, Star of the Sea Church, Sandymount, arriving at 9.50am for 10am funeral Mass. Burial afterwards will be at Redford cemetery in Greystones Co Wicklow.