Tributes to Tommy

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Tributes have been paid to Derry man Tommy McDonnell, who has died aged 82 after a year long illness.

For the last 20 years of his career, Tommy was an Education Welfare Officer with the Western Education and Library Board. However his career in politics had begun many years earlier as a member, then Chairman, of the Derry Nationalist Party.

Tommy’s politics were founded in altruism and morality and he felt deep compassion for those struggling with poverty. He was elected Nationalist Party Councillor for Derry’s South Ward in 1965 at the age of 35.

He worked tirelessly on behalf of issues which he felt so strongly about such as jobs, fuel shortages, nursery provision, the allocation of infrastructure and opportunities to Derry, ecumenism (he was with the first Catholic councillors to ever officially attend a service in St Columb’s Cathedral in 1967) and most significantly the historic housing crisis. Tommy resigned from the Nationalist party on a matter of principle, which was characteristic of his strong personality.

James Doherty, formerly six county chairman of the Nationalist Party, said, “Tommy was a very hard worker, extremely loyal, a team player, carried out his business in a quiet manner without fuss and was a truly exemplary person.”

Tommy was also a member of the Bogside Community Association, a founder and chairman of People Together, one of the first ecumenical groups in Derry, and served on many committees and Boards of Governors.

Tommy’s compassion and ongoing commitment to these causes was further reflected in his education when as a mature student he obtained a Diploma in Social work and a Diploma in Addiction Studies from the University of Ulster.

Tommy was well-known as a devoted Long Tower parishioner with many years’ service in the parish on confraternities and as a collector.

Father Michael Collins described his devotion to the Long Tower Church and to his faith in God as “monastic” with attendance in later life at several masses a day and long hours of personal prayer. He was also a lifetime member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.

Tommy was blessed with a great sense of humour which he exercised from a young age by taking part in amateur theatricals and as a member of Colmcille Debating Society Until his illness he could still remember scenes from plays he had performed in as a teenager and left his listeners helpless with laughter by putting on all the accents.

Tommy was also a volunteer cashier at Derry Feis for 50 years.

All those who had contact with Tommy found him sociable, humorous, deeply compassionate, a person of integrity and a true gentleman. But it is as a loving husband of 50 years standing to Thelma and as a devoted father to Edward and Marina that his his legacy will be felt longest.

Tommy always put the good of his family above any of his interests or political ambitions.

Tommy had many relatives and good friends who predeceased him and attending funerals was becoming an all too frequent event for him. He consoled himself by saying that there would be plenty of old pals waiting for him in heaven. No doubt he is now enjoying their company. He is survived by Thelma, son Edward, daughter Marina, daughter-in-law Una and son-in-law Gary and grandchildren Aenghus, James and Iona.