Larry Hasson: a man of great charm and grace dies aged 101

The late Larry Hasson. [020911SML5]
The late Larry Hasson. [020911SML5]

One of Derry’s best known and most respected businessmen, Larry Hasson, died this week aged 101.

The father-of-five passed away peacefully at Altnagelvin Hospital surrounded by his family on Wednesday.

Larry with his wife, Nellie, who pre-deceased him.

Larry with his wife, Nellie, who pre-deceased him.

As the figurehead of Austin’s of the Diamond - one of the city’s longest established and most prestigious businesses - Larry Hasson epitomised all that was good about Derry.

A devoted family man, astute businessman and talented singer, Larry Hasson was, as the city’s MP Mark Durkan said, “a landmark character in the city”.

Larry Hasson was not born to riches. As they say in Derry, he had to start from scratch. He always recalled his happy childhood and adolescence in the family home in Bridge Street with his parents, two sisters, and one brother.

His father, Daniel, was one of the best-known violinists in the area while his mother, Mary, was a typically thrifty Derry housewife of the early years of the 20th century.

In an interview with former ‘Journal’ editor Frank Curran in the 1990s, Larry says it was his mother who set him on the road to self-sufficiency by giving him a £5 note (a lot of money then) and telling him: “Go out and double it.”

It would have been surprising if young Larry had not become interested in music. His sister, Josie, was already showing outstanding talent as a singer and Larry was determined that she would not be the only Hasson to make a musical mark.

He began to sing in his early teens and, like many other notable Derry vocalists, his first teacher was the inimitable Mrs E.H. O’Doherty. He followed the tradition of displaying his singing talent at Derry and Donegal feiseanna and, in the early 1930s, came to the attention of the legendary Godfrey Brown, one of Ireland’s greatest musicians and teachers, who pushed his talented young protégé forward.

Between 1940 and 1953, Larry was in constant demand by both the BBC and Radio Eireann and was paid between three and four guineas per performance - at least £100 in today’s terms.

While Larry did consider a full-time singing career, family responsibilities - he was then married with a growing family - prevented him from taking the gamble.

Larry Hasson was always proud that he started his business career without capital. He was always willing to work long hours and, in addition to his job with Hill’s of Strand Road and Spencer Road, he also had other irons in the fire. He sold coal and collected the money for the coal merchants for a commission.

His ambitions soared from when he was married. He recalled: “My wife was the driving force. She was a great business woman and she backed me no matter what I did.”

Larry had always been ambitious to own his own business and, in 1953, he achieved his dream when he opened his first shop. From then it was a success story for the next 23 years. But, in 1976, came the crowning glory in Larry’s career when Hassons bought the historic Austin’s business in the Diamond, a prestige city landmark for a century.

He recalled: “We were interested in Austin’s from the moment we heard the family might be selling. But, eventually, they sold to a Belfast firm called Rowatco. I was disappointed. Rowatco had an accountancy business in Belfast and was finding it difficult to find the time to run both.

“They asked my son, Luke, if he would manage Austin’s. He told me, we considered the matter and said to them, ‘We’ll buy it’. So it was agreed and we took over Austin’s. It was our greatest business venture.”

Semi-retired, Larry Hasson continued to work until quite recently. In his corner office on the top floor of Austin’s, you wouldn’t find a computer, laptop or mobile phone.

On his desk overlooking the city are family photos, a framed picture of astronaut Neil Armstrong and a plaque containing the precious golf ball with which he scored an historic hole-in-one at Lisfannon in 1982.

Asked why he continued to go to work aged 100, he replied: “I’m relaxed at Austins. I started in business with £75 and look at it now. I can sit here and look out over a lovely view of Derry. In fact, in Austin’s on a clear day you can see across to Scotland.”

Mr Hasson, who was pre-deceased by his wife, Nellie, is survived by his sons, Luke, Paul, John and Declan, and daughter, Ann.

His funeral leaves from his home at 18, Talbot Park, this morning at 10.50 a.m. for 11.30 a.m. Requiem Mass in St Columb’s Church, Long Tower. Internment afterwards in St Joseph’s Cemetery, Banagher (Feeny).