THE recent death of Joe Malone draws a final curtain on the life story of a Mayo man whose drive and personality helped make a success of everything he touched. A native of Breaffy, Castlebar, and all his life a proud son of Mayo, his achievements were many.
He had been a successful businessman before he was 30; Bord Fáilte manager in North America by the time he was 40; and the company’s Director General before he was 50. His was a stellar career in which his charisma and personality played no small part, but which essentially came down to that oldest of Irish traits, a way with people.
Joe Malone had left Breaffy in his twenties to work with the fledgeling Dan Ryan car rental business in Dublin. He quickly rose to become its managing director and then left to set up, with his late brother Liam, his own car hire operation. Success followed rapidly, and in 1964 he disposed of the business to the UK-based Kenning Group.
It was then that the Breaffy man was to find his true vocation, the career for which he was most suited. In 1967, aged 37, Bord Fáilte came calling, offering him the post of Bord Fáilte manager for North America. It turned out to be a more challenging role than anyone envisaged. The industry was suddenly buffeted intensely by the troubles in Northern Ireland. The unrelenting nightly TV coverage of bombings, sectarian violence, murders and lawlessness played havoc with tourism promotion, causing visitor numbers to fall rapidly for several years.
But Joe Malone was, above all else, a salesman. For him, being head of the Irish Tourist Board in New York meant you had to go out and sell your country, and there was no point in sitting behind a plush Manhattan desk waiting for the business to come in. Like his tourism boss back in Dublin, the hotelier PV Doyle, it was all about the hard slog. They were kindred spirits, self-made successful businessmen who knew what it was to go out and win the business. They led by example and, for them, selling the country was what the effort was all about.
Intriguingly, all this was at a time when Mayo men seemed to have a near monopoly of the senior tourism positions in Ireland. Joe Lally in Galway, Michael Heverin in Mayo, Dan O’Neill in Sligo, Tom Flanagan in Limerick, Michael Cusack in Waterford, were at the cutting edge of Irish tourism promotion.
In America, the affable, gregarious Malone was putting Irish tourism on the map. A proficient networker, he was a world President of Skal International, the global tourism and friendship organisation, a role which opened so many doors which would otherwise have remained shut.
In 1976, he returned to Dublin on his appointment as Director General of Bord Fáilte, the supreme accolade and a fitting recognition of what he had achieved in the US over a span of 15 years.
On his retirement, he returned to America with his family, but remained a Director of Bord Fáilte, and was twice appointed to the board of Aer Lingus. He joined the board of Smurfit’s in the USA, and worked with General Automotive in the pastoral town of Ann Arbor in Michigan, before finally retiring to Rye in upstate New York in 1992.
But his roots remained firmly at home in Mayo, and one of his proudest achievements was his nomination as Mayo Man of the Year, coupled with the distinction of being awarded Life Presidency of Skal International. In his retirement, he maintained strong links with the tourism industry, and was closely involved in the development of several hotels, not least Breaffy House Hotel, close to his boyhood home and of which he had so many fond memories.