The altruism of Heide Roche to her adopted home of Kinsale benefited the town and dozens of people in need of shelter, write
AT A time of widespread homelessness, the commitment of a private couple, 25 years ago, to provide 30 homes for the single elderly in their community in need of shelter, is especially salutary.
And, when the 25-year anniversary of the Guardwell Homes in Kinsale is marked later in 2018, the memory of the work of the recently deceased Heide Roche will be rightly acknowledged.
German-born Heide Roche set up the charitable organisation Guardwell Sheltered Homes in her adopted town of Kinsale: To date 75 elderly single people have had accommodation provided when necessary.
It’s calculated that over 204,000 days of purpose-built residential accommodation to otherwise potentially homeless elderly men and women have been delivered by this personally driven altruistic act alone.
As well as initiating the project, which saw 30 homes in all built in two phases, in 1993 and in 2000, and personally funding much of its shortfalls over the years with her late husband Stanley, Heide Roche, until shortly before her death, remained hands-on and involved in an almost daily basis with its residents, interacting in cooking, talking, playing cards and bingo, organising day trips and buses, leading sing-songs, and even having individually wrapped Christmas and Birthday presents for everyone.
The rare level of philanthropy and altruism, kindnesses and personal drive, was driven by a deep commitment to Kinsale and surrounding areas, and especially its older citizens, across a range of services, from Guardwell (which benefited to the tune of in excess of €1.5m) to Kinsale Community Hospital, as well as youth services like Sáile, and Cork’s COPE Foundation.
Keen to remember that charity didn’t just start at home, Heide and Stanley Roche also supported projects as far away as Children’s Trusts in Thailand, care for mentally handicapped in Africa and SOS Bahine in Nepal, which supports vulnerable young girls in education.
The full breadth of the late Heide Roche’s generosity only became apparent as her estate is settled, following her passing away last October, nine years after the death of her husband Stanley Roche, of the Roches Stores retail dynasty which started in Cork.
The couple’s love affair made headlines in the early 1970s — in a different, pre-divorce times Ireland — as both had been married to other partners, which resulted in a widely reported High Court case.
They subsequently married and reared a family at nearby Belgooly, while coverage of the case encouraged them to live a life out of the public eye, yet once very much within and committed to the Kinsale community.
Heide Roche was born in war-time Germany in 1942, at Ladenburg, near Heidelberg, had first married in 1960 and moved to Ireland in the 1960s, then to Kinsale, where she opened the Bistro Restaurant in 1974, became a leading presence in the town’s noted Good Food Circle and, subsequently, the Gourmet Festival.
Unsurprisingly, her Bistro restaurant also hosted the annual Kinsale Senior Citizens Christmas parties.
Following the death of Heide Roche, it was quickly confirmed that the couple’s philanthropy not only ran into the realm of many millions of euro, but her initiative at Guardwell Homes had also saved the State and the exchequer many millions more in keeping so many vulnerable elderly single people in safe keeping over the past 25 years.
Separately, and in more recent times, Heide Roche initiated and oversaw the complete renewal of Newborough House at Ballinclashet Creek, a period listed property gutted by fire in 1960, roofless for half a century and painstakingly rebuilt between 2013 and 2017 and intended to be a private nursing home, for her own old age and for her friends.
Predeceased by her husband Stanley and stepson Peter, Heide Roche is survived by her children Bronwen, Owen, Morgan and Ondine, her stepson Nicholas and by her many grandchildren. Her body was donated to medical research, and her death notice concluded with a line from Leonard Cohen: “Dance me to the end of love”.