A tribute to Jim Fitzpatrick…

Thank you Slugger O’Toole for inviting me to write something about Jim Fitzpatrick RIP.

My first thoughts today are with Jim’s family, with Anne, Bríd, Bernard, Eileen, Dominic, Clare, Jim (Junior) and Andrew and his other loved ones. And with the Irish News family who are also grieving a revered patriarchal figure and beginning to come to terms with his loss. I extend to all of them my sympathy and prayerful solidarity at this sad time. However, it is also a time of thanksgiving for the great giftedness of Jim.

And as it is Sunday I am also keenly aware of a missing face in the congregation at the 12 o’clock Mass in St Brigid’s Parish church on Derryvolgie Avenue where Jim, my fellow parishioner, was a familiar reassuring presence until very recently.

I feel privileged to have known him, to have worked for him as his first editor, and to have had him as a person to whom I could turn to for wise counsel subsequently in my career, indeed until quite recently. It was not one-way traffic. There would also be an encouraging note, phone call or text from time to time after a programme he had liked or when he thought I had written a good piece.

He was a good and decent man who treated people with respect. And alongside his gentleness and kindness were the steeliness, decisiveness and resolve that enabled him to become a very successful businessman and a giant in our competitive media sector.

The clue to understanding Jim, to getting to the essence of the man, is in the motto that appears above every editorial in The Irish News : the Latin words “Pro fide et patria” which mean “For faith and fatherland” or in some modern translations “For faith and country.”

Jim had a deep faith that was central to his life and some might consider such a motto anachronistic or somehow un-PC in a secularised world but such a thought would have been alien to Jim.

He loved God. He kept the faith. He loved his country, the piece of earth where God had placed him.

I remember Jim stressing that the word “fide” in the motto meant the Christian faith and should not be interpreted in a narrow denominational sense.

He was a devout Catholic but an independently minded one who did not – when he felt he had to – hesitate to speak his mind privately in his so gentle voice to prelates (and politicians too ) and tell them things they did not wish to hear.

Practising the faith for Jim meant listening to and acting out the instructions of Jesus in the Gospel. I often thought there was one verse from the Sermon on the Mount he especially embraced: “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:3).

Jim never publicised his generous philanthropic work or spoke about his quiet unsung role in the peace process. He was a modest man who eschewed self-promotion and studiously avoided the limelight. To my knowledge, he never gave a media interview in his 93 years. Not many years ago he very politely declined a request by me for an Irish Catholic interview. A week or two later, the gentleman that he was, he made a beeline for me after Sunday Mass to apologise if he had been brusque with me.

Doing good and doing the right thing was never about him but about the people who needed help or the cause that needed support. He was guided by his conscience and it is no coincidence that his great hero was St Thomas More, also a lawyer, who was martyred for conscience.

No cause mattered more to Jim Fitzpatrick than the cause of peace in his native land.

As I stated in the course of my tribute on Twitter yesterday Jim was “one of our unsung heroes who strove tirelessly for peace behind the scenes and quietly built bridges and fostered reconciliation without ever seeking the limelight.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin in his tribute remarked that “his role in the earliest days of the embryonic peace process is not widely known, but it was crucial.”

To my knowledge the only glimpse we have had of the importance of Jim’s role in the peace process has come in Mary McAleese’s superbly written memoir Here’s the Story (Sandycove/Penguin Books).

Mary chooses her words carefully and indicates that even at this remove there is much that cannot be revealed about her work with Jim as members of the Clonard Peace Ministry in supporting the seminal Hume-Adams initiative. But that was only a part of his wider work for peace and reconciliation. I recall that long before Hume-Adams, during my time as Editor in the early 1980s Jim was reaching out and interacting with senior loyalist paramilitaries among others.

Jim’s great legacy is the vibrant Irish News newspaper of today that in challenging times is outperforming its rivals. It now falls to Jim’s son Dominic, the managing director, and his colleagues to protect and develop that precious patrimony and we wish them well.

Jim Fitzpatrick was a patriot who has left his mark for good on this community in many ways and his loss leaves a great void. His life was a gift and those of us who mourn him are also grateful for his friendship and for his contribution to the common good.

Jim has now gone to his eternal reward to be reunited with Alice, his wife and soulmate who supported him immeasurably throughout their long marriage.

May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Martin O’Brien is a former editor of The Irish News. You can follow him on Twitter.

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