Douglas Gageby: Irish Times editor and champion of journalists' rights

Douglas Gageby, who was regarded as “a colossus of Irish journalism”, has died in Dublin aged 85.

He was twice editor of the Irish Times, from 1963 to 1974, and later from 1977 to 1986.

During his first stint as editor, the circulation of the paper increased from 35,000 to 69,500.

Of Northern Ireland Protestant origin, Gageby went south to study at Trinity College Dublin, where he interrupted his law degree during the Second World War to join the Irish Army, serving as a lieutenant in military intelligence.

He began his journalistic career immediately after the war as a reporter and sub-editor on the Irish Press daily newspaper.

He was appointed assistant editor of the newly founded Sunday Press in 1949. Two years later, Gageby became editor-in-chief of the Irish News Agency, which had just been set up by the government of the day. In 1954, he returned to the Irish Press group to become editor of the new evening paper, the Evening Press, which was a resounding success, having on its staff journalists such as Tim Pat Coogan, now a prolific author.

Five years later, Gageby was offered the job of joint managing director of the Irish Times. He retired in 1974 but was recalled to the editorial chair three years later to reverse the slide in the newspaper’s circulation.

Even after his second retirement, in 1986, Gageby insisted: “I am still a journalist. I’ll die a journalist.”

Throughout his life, Gageby avoided the cocktail circuit, saying that too much contact with those in power could inhibit the writing of editorials, which he did almost daily.

Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy described Gageby as a “journalistic icon to all of us who knew him”. He had, she added, “moulded and shaped the Irish Times and the best of Irish journalism for most of the latter half of the 20th century”.

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the NUJ, said: “We in the NUJ are forever in his debt for his strict adherence to the concept of editorial independence.

“His decision to give evidence on behalf of Liz Allen and the Irish Independent in a landmark case concerning the protection of sources was a forthright exposition of the rights of journalists, and he treated the court to an erudite, provocative and at times quite comic thesis on the operation of the Official Secrets Act.”

The Irish Times editor who succeeded Gageby, Conor Brady, recalled that over a drink 20 years ago, Gageby had confided to him that when he died, no one would know about it until four days later when his funeral would have taken place.

It was as he wished. He died on 24 June. His death notice and obituary appeared on 28 June.

His funeral was a private family one as he had requested. Gageby is survived by daughters Sally and Susan, a judge of the Irish Supreme Court, and sons John and Patrick, a senior counsel.

 

Des Cryan

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