Two different but good men have died. They probably would not have agreed on some topics. Each contributed to the times they lived in.
The first is of course Gay Byrne for whom books of condolences was opened in Dublin, Cork, and other cities as a mark of respect for how he helped Ireland to mature as a society with his two-hour Late Late Show from 1962 to 1999. Frank Hall presented it in 1964.
He had many showbiz icons on the show, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Peter Sellers, Peter Ustinov, David Niven, and a special interview with Jane Fonda in London.
We rarely knew the guests in advance which increased our anticipation. He gave clues in his introductions.
The fun was in guessing correctly. A television critic for the UK Observer wrote that Gay’s Late Late Show “was akin to listening to a nation talking to itself”.
His The Meaning of Life TV series’ interview in 2015 with British actor Stephen Fry made international news. The best of the interviews was published in best selling books. He said he liked Fry enormously.
I rarely heard his show on RTÉ Radio One from 1973 to 1998. Time was given for sensitive topics. It had a fund to which listeners donated to help those in serious need.
The death of teenager Ann Lovett and her baby in January 1984 giving birth alone outdoors led to thousands of women writing to him of their experiences.
He read a sample on his radio show entirely dedicated to them. Some of these were read on the Late Late Show. They trusted him to be their representative.
The second person to die is Fr Des Wilson, who died on Tuesday, November 5, aged 94. He is well known in Belfast where he grew up in the Ormeau Rd area.
He was a community and human rights activist all his adult life until he retired. He believed in the importance of social justice in Northern Ireland and of education for people and communities to be independent and resilient.
He sometimes did not see eye-to-eye with his Church’s hierarchy.
He believed in equality and human dignity. He is remembered in the Upper Springfield Rd and Ballymurphy areas for his support through most difficult times in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
He co-founded the Upper Springfield Community House which provides counselling, courses and prepares people to be community workers.
The Irish News newspaper columnist Jarlath Kearney said Fr Wilson’s work and education helped the most excluded in society.
Gay and Fr Des made an impact and will be remembered by many who appreciate it.