Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Remembering Garrett O Connor

Dr. Garrett O’Connor was a world renowned psychiatrist. Last week dh died peacefully in his sleep at home in Aughrim, Co. Wicklow. Garrett was married to the equally well known actress Fionnula Flanagan.
He was recognised for work in the field of alcohol addiction and was the president and CEO of the Betty Ford Institute. Garrett was originally from Dublin.
His funeral took place on Saturday and I was one of those who spoke at the ceremony.
Below is my oration.

Oration for Garrett O Connor:

Ba mhaith liom mo chombhrón agus bá a dhéanamh le Fionnuala, Mathew, Turlough, Mary Lee, Julie and Mary.
Agus do clan uilig O Connor, do na cairde’s leathbhádóiri or fadh trasna an Domhan.
It was my great privilege to know Garrett, not as well as his close family who will feel his loss in a special intimate way, especially his beloved Fionnuala. But I am glad I knew him.
It is an honour to say a few inadequate words about this insightful, articulate, creative, honest, courageous and very gifted human being.
He would blush at this but in his long life he touched many people in a positive and empowering way. It should be of some consolation to his family that there are many thousands of people alive today, and tens of thousands of families, leading productive and loving lives,  because of his tireless efforts in challenging alcohol abuse and providing counselling and other supports for those in need.
He also talked publicly and very bravely about the personal and family trauma alcoholism created in his life.
Garrett’s training in addiction training and psychiatry was unmatched.
For four decades he travelled widely teaching, consulting, learning, and sharing his experience and ideas with others. He and his close friend Dr. Ivor Browne were trail blazers. Under the auspices of the Irish Association of Human Development, founded by Ivor, which started initially in Ballyfermot, this work was then pioneered in Derry after Bloody Sunday with the Bogside Community Association and Paddy Doherty – Paddy Bogside. A lot of what they did there was based on experimental techniques created largely by Garrett and Ivor.
So although Garrett lived for 50 years in the USA his connections with Ireland were deep and constant. He loved Ireland and the Irish people.
Garrett has also written extensively and persuasively on the role of malignant shame in the Irish psyche and its connection to colonialism. He articulated his belief that the crisis created by malignant shame also extends now into the Ireland of austerity.
I first met Garrett and Fionnuala exactly 21 years ago. A group of us were travelling across the USA meeting Irish American communities and political leaders. Not long after the IRA sos in 1994.
On October 6th, my birthday, Garrett and Fionnuala very kindly hosted a birthday party at their home in Beverly Hills.  Our friend Richard McAuley was enthralled by all of the movie stars who turned up. A reporter for the Sunday Times was there also skulking around outside, taking down registration numbers of parked cars. Then Fionnuala produced a birthday cake and Garrett led us in singing ‘Lá breithe shona duit’, silencing the evensong of the crickets and giving our intrepid reporter colourful copy of the front page of his next edition.
Some weeks later I sent Garrett and Fionnuala wild flower seeds, mostly foxgloves or Méirini Púca which I gathered in a Glenside at the back of Errigal in Donegal. Not long afterwards Oscar, Garrett’s huge hairy Airdale died. Garrett dutifully buried the dog in the back garden – probably in breach of a thousand by-laws. Fionnuala unbeknownst to him sprinkled the wildflower seeds over Oscar’s grave.
When the wildflowers bloomed, with the sight and scent of the western highlands of Donegal on the west coast of the USA, Garrett proclaimed that Oscar had performed a miracle.
Garrett was a decent human being. A strong Irish patriot agus cara mór do pobal na hÉireann. Ní chífidh muid a leitheid arís ann.
The author Terry Pratchett, who died recently, put it well before his death.
“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away …”
Garrett has left many ripples.
But of course now will be a time of great grief for Fionnuala and those closest to Garrett. Yours is the greatest loss. Garrett would want you all to be well. I think he would approve of Brendan Kennelly’s poem Begin.
This wee extract is for Fionnuala and all of the O Connor clan.
Begin again to the summoning birds
To the sight of light at the window
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
At crying birds and the sudden rain
At branches stark in the winter sunlight
To words of greeting in the Dublin morning
Though we live in a world that thinks of ending
That always seems about to give in
Something that will not acknowledge conclusion
Insists that we forever begin
Slan Garrett 

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