Tributes to Geoff Oakley, a “model local newspaper editor”

  • 22 Sep 2021

Warm tributes have been paid to NUJ life member Geoff Oakley, who has died in his 93rd year.

Geoff Oakley was described as a model local newspaper editor whose work made a significant difference to his community. Geoff was the first editor of the Tullamore Tribune. His passing marks the breaking of the last link with the now defunct King’s County Chronicle, Birr, where he began his career in 1945. He joined the Midland Tribune, Birr, in 1948 and was instrumental in the establishment of the Tullamore Tribune in 1978.

Noted for his meticulous shorthand and attention to detail Geoff Oakley is remembered as a mentor to a generation of journalists who worked in the Tribune titles in Co Offaly and North Tipperary. He was a former officer of Athlone and District branch of the National Union of Journalists. He was made life member along with former branch chair and close friend the late Eddie Rogers.

Offaly historian Michael Byrne recalled Geoff’s support for the maintenance of health services in Offaly, citing him as an influential figures in the county.  He had written in the Offaly History website:

“Geoff made a singular contribution to the saving of the hospital in Tullamore in the mid-1970s with the help of the Offaly Committee to save the Hospital. Week after week the articles poured out and the pressure that was piled on secured the hospital and paved the way for the new hospital from the late 1990s.” 

Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:

“By dint of hard work and sheer commitment, Geoff Oakley helped enrich his community. He was a model regional newspaper editor who believed that journalism matters, and he never lost his zeal for local news. He was a mentor, a champion of community causes and a strong defender of local democracy. His knowledge of local government and his commitment to covering local authority meetings on behalf of citizens was a remarkable feature of his long career.”

Below is the appreciation by Séamus Dooley, who began his career with the Tullamore Tribune, published by Offaly History.

 Geoff Oakley: An appreciation

Geoff Oakley was something of an enigma. In a distinguished career, he was passionate about news: cultured, wise and opinionated his integrity and sense of honour defined Geoff in his public role as Editor of the Tullamore Tribune.
Yet Geoff was in many ways a shy man who shunned the limelight, seldom speaking in public or giving interviews to the national media on issues of local interest.
For many years Geoff was the Tullamore Tribune and his vision and commitment were key ingredients in the success of the paper. J. I. Fanning, proprietor and editor of the Midland Tribune was nominally editor when the sister newspaper was founded in 1978 but from the beginning Geoff was the guiding spirit - his formal appointment as editor merely confirmed his status.
From  a dark pokey two-desk newsroom. in Church Street,  Geoff churned out reams of copy on a noisy, battered manual typewriter which, like the office itself, had seen better days.
David Pate had never been in Tullamore before Fanning offered him the job of reporter on the fledgling title. A young Scot reared in Dublin and educated at TCD, Dave was an unlikely recruit but Pate, who took early retirement as a senior producer with CBC Nova Scotia last year, and Oakley made a formidable team. Mary T Bracken made up the office triumvirate for much of his rein.
When David moved to pursue a successful career in the national media, I succeeded him in the Tribune having worked during breaks from college. Geoff was a mentor to me and to many young journalists, insisting on the highest standards of accuracy.
He had flawless shorthand and placed a premium on attention to detail. His report on the inquest into the death of Fr Niall Molloy is an outstanding example of his reporting while his profile of Thomas MacDonagh in the Midland Tribune's supplement to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, "A noble life and a proud death" serves as a reminder of his elegant writing style.
A young journalism student on placement in Tullamore was once severely chided for failing to ask the name of a family dog who featured in a Richard May photograph which accompanied a well-written human interest story.
“Are you joking?” he declared as Geoff instructed him to ring the family, “that’s just crazy”.
Geoff firmly but patiently explained that the dog was a family member and must be named.
Years later I met the now matured journalist in a Dublin pub. Then working in London, he said the dog episode had taught him a valuable life lesson!
Social historians have reason to appreciate Geoff's obsession with fully captioned pictures, something which sometimes challenged the patience of Richard May, Joe O'Sullivan and Mary Dunne but he always appreciated their professionalism.
As an editor Geoff showed leadership in challenging the consensus. He was a champion of constitutional politics and abhorred violence, often courageously challenging the IRA.
While supportive of the campaign to save the then Tullamore General hospital he incurred the wrath of some activists by his refusal to oppose every proposal for redevelopment of specialist facilities at regional level, preferring a more nuanced and strategic analysis.

His editorial stance on social issues, such as the divorce and 8th amendment referendums, was equally courageous while his absolute commitment to fairness meant that all sides were accorded coverage.
All who knew him, including his readers, knew of his love for and devotion to Dorothy. Despite his natural reserve their holidays were the subject of endless quirky features, always written with style and humour. Geoff and Dorothy made a wonderful couple and enriched the lives of so many, humans and animals through the OSPCA.
As an editor Geoff Oakley 's greatest contribution was to develop a paper which, despite limited resources, reflected the diversity of life in the community.
For him, local news mattered. It still does!

Geoff Oakley is pictured with then NUJ president now general secretary Michelle Stanistreet at the Irish delegate conference in Offaly. Also pictured are Séamus Dooley, the late Dorothy Oakley and Gerry Curran, Irish Executive Council. 

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