Tributes have been paid to Rosaline Kelly, the first woman elected President of the National Union of Journalists. Ms Kelly (90) died at St Columcille’s Hospital, Loughlinstown, County Dublin following a short illness. Ms Kelly worked as a magazine journalist in London and served as President of the NUJ from 1975 to 1977. On retiring from active journalism she returned to Ireland. She lived in Wicklow and was instrumental in establishing the retired members section of the NUJ in Ireland. She was also made a Member of Honour of the union.
NUJ President Barry McCall described Ms Kelly as an NUJ institution and said her passing would be mourned throughout the union. Mr McCall said: “Before the phrase ‘glass ceiling’ was coined Rosaline Kelly was setting a headline for woman activists. She was elected to the union’s National Executive Council in 1972 and quickly established a reputation for commitment, energy and a direct debating style which was to become her hallmark. Rosaline had a long association with the NUJ Standing Orders Committee and was regarded as an expert on procedures. She had a strong commitment to the welfare of members and this was reflected in her deep involvement in the union’s charities and in the establishment of a retired members section in Ireland. She never lost her enthusiasm and only ill health prevented her from attending our delegate meeting in Newcastle on Tyne last October. It would have been her 50th consecutive delegate meeting. Rosaline Kelly was an NUJ institution and her passing will be mourned throughout the union.”
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet also paid tribute to Ms Kelly. She said: “Rosaline Kelly was one of the outstanding characters within the NUJ. She retained throughout her life an abiding commitment to the principles of social justice. Rosaline was fiercely proud of the NUJ and took particular pride in the Code of Conduct. Rosaline believed in the highest professional standards and was a strong supporter of our work at the Leveson Inquiry. Decades after her retirement from journalism she was sharing her advice and wise counsel. Her presence at union gatherings will be greatly missed.”
NUJ Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley expressed sympathy on behalf of the Irish Executive Council. He said: “Rosaline spent her working life in England but in retirement she became active in Ireland, becoming the voice of retired members and ensuring that their interests were represented at all times. She hated the term ‘Woman President’.
“I was a President who happened to be a woman. You won’t find the term ‘Woman President’ in the Rule Book,” she once chided a branch officer who thought he was doing the right thing by referring to Rosaline’s historic role in breaking through the male dominated fortress that was the NEC. But there is no doubt she was a role model for women in a male dominated industry. She will be remembered for her qualities of integrity, her selfless dedication and her commitment.”
“In Ireland Rosaline and (former Irish Secretary) Jim Eadie formed and shaped the retired members section. As Chair for more than a decade she dominated committee meetings. I recall watching with fascination as she whipped into shape seasoned union activists. She was a stickler for procedure and protocol and refused to grant special dispensations to anyone – President, General Secretary or committee member, who she deemed to have transgressed her standing orders.”
“With the former Irish Secretary Jim Eadie she led the way in ensuring that retired members continued to play a role. She will be remembered for her style, her humour and her forthright manner. Rosaline disliked the term ‘woman president’ but there is no doubt she was a role model for women in a male dominated industry. Her integrity, her selfless dedication and her commitment made Rosaline a role model for all union members and it’s for those qualities that she will be remembered”, Mr Dooley said.
Imbued with a sense of justice and fairness Rosaline was also a long standing supporter of the union’s charities, which she served with distinction. Kevin Cooper’s picture at the top shows her on a visit to Belfast, when she accepted a cheque for £7000 on behalf of the NUJ Provident Fund, being the proceeds of the Belfast Press Ball 2004. That commitment reflected a deep personal and largely private faith. While delegates recovered from late night carousing Rosaline would inevitably find a church in whatever obscure corner in which ADM or the Irish Delegate Conference was being held to attend Sunday Mass. On her return she would occasionally tease atheistic colleagues that she had prayed for their souls or lit a candle for members of SOC as they tried to conclude Sunday’s agenda.
Séamus Dooley also recalled how Rosaline liked visiting the NUJ offices and kept in touch with staff and retired employees. She never arrived empty handed and usually brought boxes of sweets. When the new Irish office was opened she presented the IEC with her collection of vintage style NUJ posters. Recently the Dublin office got around to framing them and they hang in the foyer in her memory.
Rosaline’s remains were brought on Friday evening to St Patrick’s church in Wicklow town. Requiem Mass was held at 10am Saturday April 13th in St Patrick’s, followed by cremation at 12.30pm in Mount Jerome, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.
Among the mourners at the removal were her niece Evelyn and her nephew Patrick, a former NUJ President (1973-74) John Bailey (and his wife Maureen) who was a great friend of Rosaline, John Brophy, Kieran Fagan, Patrick Kinsella and myself representing her many NUJ colleagues.
Damien Tiernan (Irish South East branch) who kept in contact with Rosaline in her latter years was among the mourners at the Mass in Wicklow, where a guard of honour paid her a final NUJ tribute. It included the IEC Cathaoirleach Gerry Curran. John Bailey delivered a eulogy and at the crematorium, Seamus Dooley gave a short oration, followed by former Irish Secretary Jim Eadie. Rest in Peace.
Irish Times death notice: KELLY Rosaline – April 11, 2013, aged 90, Wicklow, London, Drogheda. Member of Honour and first woman elected President of NUJ, (peacefully), after short illness, in St. Colmcille’s Hospital, Loughlinstown. Reposing at McCrea’s Funeral Home Dublin Road, Wicklow Town with removal to St. Patrick’s Church, Wicklow Town today (Friday) at 6.15 o’clock arriving at 6.45 o’clock Funeral Mass tomorrow (Saturday) at 10 o’clock followed by cremation Service at Mount Jerome Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin at 12.30 o’clock Rosaline will be a force missed by her niece Evelyn and nephew Patrick and the wider family, friends, neighbours and trade union colleagues here and abroad. Family flowers only. Donations, if desired, to Bothar – care of McCrea’s Funeral Directors, Dublin Road, Wicklow Town, County Wicklow. Rest In Peace.
It was only after we had said our farewells to Rosaline and I was talking to Jim Eadie that I discovered she had a Monaghan connection. Her niece confirmed that her aunt who came from Drogheda had attended the Convent of St Louis in Carrickmacross as a boarder. The boarding school closed in 1979. The nuns who came to the town in 1888 helped to establish the famous Carrickmacross lace by setting up a lace school. So because I was passing Carrickmacross on my way back to Monaghan after the service at Mount Jerome, I stopped at the convent and reflected on whether that was where Rosaline had learned her skills of managing conference standing orders and re-writing motions to ensure they were correct!
Former NUJ President John Devine who was another great friend of Rosaline’s and was among the mourners in Dublin reflected on those skills she had:-
“Rosaline, whom I have know since she came on the NEC, was from a generation that could parse, analyse and conjugate and she did not let anyone forget it. She did The Times crossword up until a couple of months ago and still drove her car through Wicklow Town and did most of her own shopping until last Autumn. Have any of you seen the streets of this historic town? She emerged from Magazine and Book at a time when “the suits” were on the wane. M and B generationally, socially and politically was new order just as Hutt and Heald and co. were orthodox and holding on magnificently to the power they wielded in the NUJ. Rosaline’s trade unionism wasn’t based on whims, or short-term causes, or single issues. Her commitment to the uplifting of wages and conditions for media workers across the board required the discipline she applied to what she did on the shop floor. Sloppiness or populism she discouraged within her sphere of influence, not always successfully but mostly. I worked with her on the NEC and on Standing Orders in the days when the ADM could be an organisational nightmare and learned to admire her ability to spoon-fillet people who tried to be smart-assed when their co-operation was being required when several motions and amendments were being composited. The only combination I saw sharper than Rosaline and the late Phil Cutler were Rosaline and Pauline Norris, both lifetime pals. Towards the end of last summer she invited herself to stay with myself and Fran in Bangor, Co. Down. That was her way. She said soon after arrival: “you know I have never seen Lough Neagh the biggest lake in these islands.” I told her that would be arranged. Next day we went to the shores of Lough Neagh first at Lurgan and then near Maghery. We had lunch, for which she paid, and then she adjourned to the external balcony of Edenmore Golf and Country Club in the middle of beautiful pastoral countryside and puffed and puffed on her cigarettes. The receptionist, after providing the second light of the afternoon, brought her a cigarette lighter which she assured Rosaline she could keep. Her great friend John Bailey, whom she appointed to look after her affairs when the end came, organised for himself, Maureen his wife, Lionel Morrison and Liz his and myself and my wife Fran to go to Wicklow last November to organise a 90th birthday party for Rosaline without her knowledge. We took a house for a week and moved into Wicklow and lived as natives. Rosaline had been expecting Fran and I to come down anyway to take her out for a meal but we never mentioned birthday. Once the party was organised, to which The President, and John Brophy were invited and attended, I phoned Rosaline and told her would be along to pick her up. When driving out of her road I turned right heading out of the town. She said “you’re going the wrong way.” I said I had to make a call and say hello to a few friends for a few minutes and maybe she would be good enough to come with us. She agreed. Liz, whom she did not recognise answered the door, and welcomed her enthusiastically. Then when she entered the room and saw all the old friends she was dumbfounded for all of a minute (some class of a record for Rosaline) before announcing that it was the best birthday she ever had. I had my ups and downs with Rosaline during the long years of our acquaintance but she would never let me quit. She never let anybody quit. On the shores of Strangford Lough she sang: ” The sea oh the sea, is grá geal mo chroi, Long may it roll between England and me, it’s a sure guarantee that some day we’ll be free, Thank God we’re surrounded by water.” When chided about being ungrateful to England, where she made her life and developed some of the great friendships of her life, she just laughed.” (John Devine April 12th 2013)