James S. Hickey

 

Shortly before his death on February 8th, I talked with Jim Hickey for the last time. He was in pain, knew he was dying, yet his questions were about this year's journalism graduates. He asked after a number of them by name, wanted to know how they had done in their work placements, and how many were now in jobs.

That was the quintessential Jim Hickey: although director of an enormous third level institution - Dublin Institute of Technology, Aungier Street - he had managed to know so many students and staff as individuals. And to care about them.

He lived for his work, but his work was people rather than things. It showed in so many ways the allowance he made for our human quirks; the fairness with which he handled disagreements between us; and the deep sensitivity he showed for the feelings of others. The converse of that of course, was the hurt he felt when someone treated him insensitively.

In my 16 years working under Jim Hickey I never once heard him say an unkind word about anyone. Indeed I remember once my self saying something unkind about someone and his reply was, "You can hardly expect me to comment on that." It stopped me short.

Jim was one of the Arklow Hickeys the long established deep sea fishing family. He has three sisters and a brother. At Gormanston College he developed his lifelong love for the Irish language and for gaelic football he played for Gormanston, UCD and local clubs, and was a keen supporter of DIT's own team. His degrees in history and economics, and his master's in statistics, took him first to Sligo Regional College as lecturer, and thence to Rathmines as lecturer in economics. it was there he became head of the school of business studies and later principal of the college. He was at the time Ireland's youngest head of a third level institution. The post of principal was renamed director after Rathmines became one of the constituent colleges of the DIT.

For more than a decade, Jim Hickey's dream had been the development of the DIT site at Aungier Street, and he pursued that dream until a state of the art campus rose on the ruins of the old Jacobs factory. And then, in 1993, he supervised moving the College of Commerce, Rathmines, to its new Aungier Street home. Medics say moving house for a family is one of the most stressful events in a person's life: what must it have been like to move 13,000 students and more than 100 staff, with all their equipment - and to keep them content while doing so? It was shortly after the move that Jim's health began to fail.

Jim had other dreams, and pursued them vigorously. Having established a crucial link with Trinity, he encouraged the development of diploma and degree courses in a broad range of disciplines - transport, journalism, public relations, advertising, communications, commercial computer programming. And alongside the longer established accountancy and business studies -came the continuing professional education programme, the Dublin Microsystems Centre - now the Digital Media Centre - and a nationwide programme in distance education. New evening degrees were introduced, including, one in management, called by Trinity representatives the most innovative programme they had seen in years. As one staffer said of Jim's leadership in all this: "He gave you confidence that you could achieve it."

Then there were the overseas links through higher education and co-operation, in Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, all again established under Jim Hickey, in which work his fluent French was no small asset. Jim Hickey leaves a wife Sheelagh, and sons Paul, Odhran and Conor.

During the funeral some of us were talking of a possible monument to Jim. it suddenly struck us there already is one that splendid new campus at Aungier Street. Si monumentum quaeritis, conspice.