Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive

    at Aula Maxima, UCC

  • 08 Jun 2007

OLLSCOIL  na  hÉIREANN

 

THE  NATIONAL  UNIVERSITY  OF  IRELAND

 

 

TEXT OF THE INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS DELIVERED BY:

PROFESSOR DENIS LUCEY, in University College Cork on 8 June, 2007, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on TED CROSBIE

 

A Leas-Sheánsailéar, a mhuintir na hOllscoile agus a dhaoine uaisle, 

 

“A chemist by training, a shovel engineer by vocation and a manager by desperation” This is how Cork’s quintessential newspaperman, being honoured by the university today, once famously described himself.

 

The Cork Examiner was founded in 1841, by John Francis Maguire, Nationalist MP, at the beginning of the decade which also saw the establishment of Queen’s College, Cork, the fore-runner of this university,in 1845, just before the Great Famine.  Thus De Paper predates De College by some few years.

 

The Crosbie connection with the paper began in 1842, when 15 year old Thomas Crosbie joined as a reporter. By all accounts, Crosbie was a gifted journalist, being described as a powerful prose writer with a sharp sense of humour and a captivating speechmaker, attributes which have certainly reappeared among subsequent generations.  Maguire continued to be deeply involved in politics, while Crosbie threw himself into journalism, eventually becoming Editor and Maguire’s partner in the business. When Maguire died in 1872, Thomas Crosbie became sole proprietor and the business has been family owned ever since with various members of the extended family deeply involved in several areas of its management.  Thomas Crosbie was an enterprising newspaperman, often sailing out in a small boat to pick up news and American newspapers from ships calling at Cork harbour.  It was in this way that he got his most famous “world scoop” by learning from the crew of an American vessel that the American Civil War was over,  a story which he cabled to London before the liners arrived in Britain. 

 

Thomas Edward Crosbie, known to us all as Ted, great grandson of that original Thomas Crosbie, was born in 1931, just a few years before his father, also Thomas, succeeded his own  father as Chairman of the company in 1934. Ted was the second eldest, the only boy in a family of four, who lived in the family home at Woodlands, Montenotte, which his grandfather had bought from the Arnott family in 1916. Though he was an only boy among 3 sisters, the age differences among them were sufficiently large to allow each of them to have a large degree of individual growing up space. Woodlands was a happy place, with lots of space for a small boy to play in the garden. Ted vividly recalls one time being thrown over the head of a donkey there. Uninjured, he remembers the donkey “putting his two legs on my chest and staring down at me.”  “Ever since,” says Ted, “I’ve never been comfortable with four-legged beasts.”  Ted quickly learned to share his father’s lifelong love of sailing and all things related to the sea.

 

After being initially educated at home until he was eight, Ted was sent to Christian Brothers College junior school where his father had also been a pupil. After much trial and error in different classes, they eventually settled him into third class and he later went on to Christians’ secondary school where he was strong in English and Science. Ted’s interest in sailing continued through these years.   By now, he had two younger sisters, who were regularly drafted in for crewing duties, thus enhancing their sailing skills and, later on, their vocabulary when a broken mast was deemed to have been a little sister’s fault! At Christians, Ted also took up rugby, which he thinks helped to overcome bronchial problems. Ted played on the junior and senior teams.

 

During his school years, Ted was encouraged to familiarise himself with the family business, becoming fascinated by learning how the presses and linotype machines worked. Ted spent his summer holidays at The Cork Examiner and, literally, learned the business from the ground up, especially learning from the fitters, whose ingenuity was taxed to the full just keeping the linotype machines functioning in the absence of spares, replacements and, even, lubricants during and shortly after World War II.  One of the fitters eventually taught young Ted machining skills and elementary fitting, thus enabling him to build on his fascination with modern engineering and model making.

 

At school, Ted had been enthralled by Chemistry, so it seemed only natural for him to come to study Science at UCC. By now, sailing had become a passion and Ted reached the top, becoming Irish National Helmsman Champion in 1950. In the early 50s he also acquired the chassis of an old baby car, on which he built up a gleaming sports car. Aluminium Alice, as he called her, must have created quite a stir when he drove it to UCC.  In the process of building and maintaining her, he learned a lot about engines and, as he says “I learned to use my hands, which stands to me today.”

 

When he received his BSc in 1952, Ted joined the firm full-time. He was then sent for nine months to study cellulose chemistry and paper testing in Sweden with the Stora paper mills, the major suppliers of paper to Cork. During that time he learned great respect for “good scientific and engineering principles applied properly”, something which he always tried to apply after coming back to Cork. On his return, Ted focused on the technical aspects of the business. In the first couple of years, he re-motored all the linotype machines and changed every motor, including those on the presses. Ted buried himself in his work during the 1950s, earning the respect of all the craftsmen as he could, literally, take a problem printing press to pieces, get it fixed and put it all together again.

 

By the early 1960s, he was studying changes in the print industry and was one of the first in Ireland to really realise that the days of lead, ink, sweat and tears associated with the hot metal processes were coming to an end. Now in the 1970s, as Technical Director, Ted began the process of designing, commissioning and training for the change-over to the new era of Web Offset printing, which came smoothly into service in May 1976, thus placing the Examiner group at the cutting edge of the industry in Ireland, almost a decade before the Dublin papers managed to do so.  The Examiner was also the first paper here to have full colour and Examiner journalists became the first in Ireland to input their stories directly into a computer system in 1986.  Not only did Ted spearhead the technical issues of these changes, he also handled labour relations during these critical periods of change in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when his cross-cutting expertise was vital in effecting dispute-free transitions.  Ted led the group through major dynamic developments as Chief Executive from the early 1980s until 1993, when he was succeeded by his cousin Alan.  Today, Ted is Vice-Chair of the family holding company Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH), which has the distinction of having the oldest family owned daily newspaper in these islands.  The TCH group now has about 17 titles, several radio interests, a recruiting agency and a media training centre in Cork  ---   an expanding, dynamic family firm, to whose success Ted Crosbie’s dynamic prowess has made no mean contribution.

 

During the 1950s, Ted had often put in 12 to 14 hour days, sometimes nights, making sure that all the technical processes of producing the Examiner and the Echo went smoothly.  During Easter 1959, he met Gretchen Kelleher at a dance; a relationship blossomed and they married the following Easter. For many years, they were a happy, close couple, until one fateful day in October 1996, when Ted’s beloved Gretchen died in a car accident en route from Dublin to Cork. Ted’s world had crashed and his grief was enormous, but his children sustained him through the dark days helping him by now to relive the happiness of the 36 years which he and Gretchen were blessed to share with one another, a joint life which now lives on through their six children, all of whom are here today - Suzanne, Elizabeth, Tom, Andrew, Edward and Sophie, who flew home from Australia especially to be here today.

 

Ted has contributed generously to the cultural, social, sporting and philanthropic lives of Cork. He was Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht Club around the time of Cork 800 in the mid 1980’s, a key figure in Opera 2005 associated with Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture and is a board member of Threshold, which does such wonderful work with homeless people.  He also builds model steam engines and they work! I must mention one other technical accomplishment of his; that is the solving of one of the great all-time mysteries of the Examiner.  Like in all such establishments, alcoholic drinks were banned, yet it was well known that creamy pints were at times appearing in the print room and being relished by thirsty staff in that hot environment after which there was no sign of the used glasses! How these pints could get into the building and the empty glasses get out of the building remained a mystery to management for years, even decades, until solved by our Ted who discovered a concealed hole in the printing room floor through which trays of pints could be passed up through the ceiling of a pub which happened to be directly underneath the printing room, with the empties being sent down again later!  Ted is on standby for a call to inspect Portlaoise Prison!

 

 

Ted Crosbie wrote a magnificent Millennium message in the Examiner of 1 January 2000 ending with:

 

We have seen great strides and fearful costs in our country and in the world and whereas Ireland North and South is on the way to becoming a favoured nation, the relief of third world poverty and the defeat of fundamentalism of all kinds must be top of Humanity’s Agenda for the first 100 years of the Millennium. If, in setting our sights on these two objectives, we remember that the greatest human virtue is charity and charitable outlook, then the deficiencies in Irish society, like our potholes, will be filled in

 

Ted saw clearly what others are only now starting to realise; that hunger, poverty and greater stability in the world are intertwined with one another, that there are no quick, instant solutions and that the North must share its good fortune to help reach these two objectives.  For that distilled wisdom alone, Ted Crosbie richly deserves to be enrolled as a Doctor of our university, in the same room where he received his Bachelor’s degree, fifty-five years ago.

PRAEHONORABILIS VICE-CANCELLARIE, TOTAQUE UNIVERSITAS:

Praesento vobis, hunc meum filium quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in utroque Jure, tam Civili quam Canonico, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo totique Academiae.

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