Eugene McGee's first Longford Leader recruit recalls humble and honest boss

Jim Gray

Reporter:

Jim Gray

Email:

newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Eugene McGee

Former Longford Leader editor Eugene McGee

We were settling into another busy day in the Leader newsroom on Market Square when Eugene thundered through the narrow corridor in a pair of illuminous green knee-high wellington boots.

“Jayz Lads, there’s not many newspaper editors in the world arrive into work in wellies ,” he laughed as he disappeared into his office.

Typical, self-deprecation from a Colossus of GAA and journalism, who always wore his greatness with such lightness that it was almost hidden. Almost. He never blew his own trumpet. He didn’t have to.

I was Eugene’s first recruit when he set out to re-launch the Longford Leader in November 1983, after it had been closed for almost a year by strike action.

By then, I was an experienced regional reporter, having worked for the Sligo Champion and, briefly, for the Roscommon Champion. But I knew little about Longford and hadn’t a single contact, a major deficiency in any reporter’s weaponry.

I need not have worried. Eugene took me under his wing with elaborate generosity. Yes, he sometimes lived up to his reputation for being blunt or gruff or aloof, but I always saw those traits as expressions of genuine shyness rather than rudeness. There wasn’t a single bad bone in the man’s body.

As a soccer man with not much more than a mild interest in the GAA, I was, of course, aware of his heroic All-Ireland achievement as Offaly manager, but I was not overawed by it, as some might have been.

My judgement of Eugene was as a journalist and editor, and to my mind, his success in this field was every bit as impressive as his sporting achievements.

Read also: The late Eugene McGee to be laid to rest today

As Managing Editor of the re-launched Leader, he reclaimed within six months the ground the newspaper had lost to its rival, the Longford News during its strike-bound inactivity. He rejuvenated staff morale, set new standards for its journalists and insisted, at all times that our readers came first and that we were to maintain a strictly neutral line, whether in sports or politics and all in between.

He loved Longford, understood its people, knew the paper they would need and want, and he delivered it, week in, week out.

Along with people like Padraic O’Brien, the late John Hughes, and, later, Eddie Coffey and Ciaran Mullooly, I revelled in being part of a team led by a man who infused every working day with a sense of honourable duty and honesty.

I travelled to and from work in Longford each day from Sligo. There were times when weather conditions were so dangerous or deadlines extended into small hours that I would have to stay over. On many such occasions, Eugene insisted I stay at the Longford Arms Hotel, and he (not the company) paid for it.

Other dark winter nights, while I’d be waiting for the late train back to Sligo, he’d take me to his home for dinner, where Marian would throw out a healthy plate and a warm welcome.

We spent hours, too, solving the problems of the world in the Market Bar, where some of our best stories were often born.
The Eugene McGee I knew was all of the things that have been said about him in recent days – humble, honourable, honest – an innovative football coach, a fearless journalist, an astute businessman.

From my own experience, I would add words such as kind, caring, encouraging, loving. He was a fabulous mentor and an inspirational friend.

I am saddened, more than I could have imagined, by his passing, and my heart goes out to Marian, Linda and Conor.
Thanks for everything, Eugene.

Read also: Longford's Eugene McGee was a man of great integrity

-Jim Gray worked with the Leader from 1983 - 85. He was the first journalist recruited by Eugene McGee when the paper was relaunched after the NUJ strike and worked from the first edition onwards. He is now retired after 40 years on the beat, most recently as editor of The Sligo Champion