Mayfair manager who was a great cross-community servant

Michael McCooe.
Michael McCooe.

Michael McCooe, long-time manager of the Mayfair Business Centre, had that rare gift of communicating with everyone – from government ministers who visited the project from time-to-time to the grassroots people of all communities in Portadown.

Michael was dedicated to everything he did in life – his beloved family at The Beeches and his “other family”, the business tenants at Mayfair just up the Garvaghy Road. He was an expert at bending the ears of those in power when seeking grants and other services for his centre.

He kept the occupancy rate around the 85 per cent, even through Troubles and recession, and wasn’t averse to occasionally bending of the rules to keep the vital cog of retailing and industry going strong in the area. He was proud that he retained the ‘mix’ of retailing, take-away, a training centre, a packaging firm, a gym, a bakery and accommodating voluntary organisations like St Vincent de Paul and St John Ambulance. Just some of the businesses and groups that thrive at Mayfair.

Michael died at the weekend at his home, surrounded by his loving family. And Portadown has not only lost a great community servant, but a cross-community servant, for he did non-stop personal work to retain contacts with everyone who knew and respected him.

Michael (58) was brought up in the Brownstown area and attended St Columba’s Primary School at Carleton Street. The family later moved to the Garvaghy Road-Ballyoran area where he spent most of his adult life – his roots run deep into Portadown.

His cross-community attitude was inculcated by his joining the Irish Army in his youth, based in Dundalk. His great friend Eamonn Fleming – also a man with a cross-community vision – spoke movingly at Michael’s Requiem Mass at St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday.

He explained that Michael had been with the peace-keeping force in the Israel-Palestine conflict, “and it was there that he observed the total futility of violence and division, and which he applied to his home town for the rest of his life. Mickey was a shining example in Portadown, a great communicator with all sides of the community in his own unique way.”

The Irish Army also, indirectly, provided Michael with his wife Marie, a Cork woman. Her brother Gerard was also a soldier and he took his friend Michael home on a visit to Ireland’s deep south – the wedding was in the city on New Year’s Day 1977, also Marie’s birthday.

Michael is also survived by daughter Mary and son-in-law Jon Santos (Gibraltar), granddaughter Ann-Marie, brother Thomas, sisters Patricia McCarron and Pacheli McNamee. The death of his other daughter Michaela a number of years ago was a bitter blow to Michael and his family – they never really got over it – and he is also pre-deceased by brothers Jim and John.

As he settled into family life, Michael McCooe realised the value of education, having done jobs like painting and decorating and farm work. As an extern student, he gained a degree in youth and community from the University of Ulster, later adding a Masters Degree, again through part-time study.

He served so many organisations in Portadown. They included Project Portadown, a cross-community Christian Group, headed by Rev David Chillingworth (Seagoe) and Jesuit Priest Fr Brian Lennon; a Governor of Drumcree College; Portadown-Monaghan Partnership, an industrial group which sourced from the International Fund for Ireland; a director of Portadown Credit Union; various sports and community schemes centred at Jesuit House in Churchhill Park.

Eamonn Fleming listed the plethora of groups his great friend served, and told how he had introduced Michael to the game of golf during a trip to Canada. “He became hooked and we joined Tandragee,” Eamonn recalled. “He played the game purely for enjoyment.”

Michael’s other main contributions were as a member of the promotional group, Portadown 2000, and, of course, his dedication to the Mayfair Business Centre. Portadown 2000 chairman Brian Walker said, “I’ve never met anyone like Michael who was so keen on uniting Portadown’s communities. He had great street wisdom, had a practical brain and was so valued during his years with us.”

Kenneth Twyble, chairman of Mayfair, said, “I simply don’t know how we’re going to replace Michael McCooe. He was our founder manager and did tremendous work with the directors of Ulster Carpets when we were setting it up.

“He had a great knack of spotting businesses to fill the centre and retained a high occupancy rate. But his great strength was that he treated everyone the same – with respect and doing tremendous favours all round. I can’t believe that he was taken from us at such an early age. He was so proud of the centre and so proud of his family. Michael was unique.”

The family wishes to thank the Macmillan Nurses and the staff of 4 North for their wonderful and unfailing care.

St John’s was filled to capacity for the Requiem Mass, which was conducted by Fr Michael O’Dwyer, assisted by three Jesuit Priests. The cross-community attendance reflected the life of Michael McCooe, and burial was in the adjoining cemetery.