Former student recalls ‘deceased’ gaffe

Meet the retired banker who, according to all intents and purposes, is dead but isn’t. Tony Lea has more cause than most to smile after he was mistakenly named as having passed away in a local history publication.

Meet the retired banker who, according to all intents and purposes, is dead but isn’t. Tony Lea has more cause than most to smile after he was mistakenly named as having passed away in a local history publication.

The book - ‘Guardians of the Flame’ - also charts many of the past pupils from St Mel’s College, including the class from 1954.

This week Tony met many of his old schoolmates for the first time in almost 60 years at an informal gathering inside The Longford Arms Hotel.

Yet, it was the inaccuracy surrounding his supposedly unanticipated departure which was the main topic of discussion amongst many of his peers last Friday afternoon.

“The confusion was that they had me down as my father Herbert,” he said. “I never liked (the name Herbert) I am Tony and always have been. They marked me down as being dead so I wrote to the college and pointed out that I am alive and well.”

Rather than get upset about the error, the 77-year-old is able to see the funny side. Instead, he tells of his heady days growing up in Aughnacliffe and Longford town following his father’s decision to join the Gardai in 1924.

Taking time out to speak to the Leader ahead of a late lunch with his former acquaintances, Tony recalled landing his first official job with local businessman John Quinn before later going on to work with shipping giants B&I thanks to late intervention from historical figure General Sean MacEoin.

“That (B&I) came about because Sean MacEoin and my father were good friends,” he insisted. “Before that, I went to work for John Quinn and he gave me a job where I got £1 a week. It’s obviously nothing now but back then it wasn’t that bad. You could buy two bottles of whiskey with it.”

His tendancy to compare wage earnings to the price of alcohol brings a wry smile to his face, one that becomes more evident when reflecting on his time spent heading up the former Midland Bank’s Irish credit card division.

“Back then, the bank wanted to set up a credit card company over here. I said to them: ‘I’ll manage your company because I can speak the language’. The response I got was: ‘Don’t they speak English?’”

That was 1971, not long before his other claim to notoriety sprung up courtesy of the enrolment of prominent businessman Ben Dunne as one of the bank’s very first Irish based customers.

“It’s an interesting story isn’t it?” he asked the Leader, before dusting himself down for a photograph. Judging by the interest and look on the faces of his St Mel’s classmates, he mightn’t be far wrong.