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Pioneering NUJ president Rosaline Kelly dies

16 April 2013

Rosaline Kelly, who became the first woman elected as president of the National Union of Journalists in 1975, has died aged 90 in her native Ireland following a short illness.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, who is one of only four women who have followed Rosaline to serve as president of the union, was among many who paid tribute to her predecessor:

"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."

Rosaline Kelly came from County Louth in Ireland and worked as a magazine journalist in London. She served as President of the NUJ from 1975 to 1977. On retiring from journalism, she returned to Ireland to live in the picturesque coastal town of Wicklow where she named her house "Arash Areesh", an anglicisation of the Irish language "Back again".

From Wicklow, she was instrumental in establishing the retired members sections of the NUJ in Ireland.

Barry McCall, NUJ President, described Rosaline as one of the best known figures within the NUJ:

"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 2012. Rosaline Kelly was an NUJ institution and her passing will be mourned throughout the union."

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, paid warm tribute to Rosaline:

"Rosaline has been described as an institution, but might more accurately be described as an institution within a number of NUJ institutions. For many years she was a dominant figure on the standing orders committee, most definitely a unique NUJ institution, and she did so with firm authority, style and humour but she could be cross, contrary even,if the need arose. She was also helpful, kind and generous with her advice and counsel.
"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. 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.

Rosaline Kelly and retired NUJ Irish secretary Jim Eadie in 2009
Rosaline Kelly and retired NUJ Irish secretary Jim Eadie in 2009
© Private

"In Ireland, Rosaline and 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.
"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. 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.
"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, we got around to framing them and they hang in the foyer in her memory."

Anita Halpin, until recently NUJ general treasurer, is another woman elected president of the union. Barbara Gunnell and Scarlett MccGwire, Rosaline's first 'successors', were elected to the role as a job-share.

Anita recalls:

"Rosaline epitomised and synthesised all the best elements of trade unionism. She was a tough negotiator in her magazine days, even to the extent of winning a pre-entry closed shop (those were the days!) and then she was the caring and fair woman in her work for the union's benevolent charity.
"I joined the NUJ after she had left the NEC and my first encounter with Rosaline was on the Standing Orders Committee when I learned from her the importance of union rules in safeguarding the rights of individual members while defending the integrity of the collective.
"We will miss her, but her family and friends can be proud in the knowledge that she made a significant and lasting contribution to our union, now in its second century and still fighting for all she held dear."

John Fray, former NUJ deputy general secretary, said:

"Strong mind, strong purpose, strong voice and always a force within our union. She will be missed by all who knew her as a true friend and loyal trade union activist right to the end."

Tags: Rosaline Kelly, President, equality, women in the NUJ