EAMON de Valera's party, as may be remembered. was in power so long in Ireland that his name became, in everybody's mind, synonymous with the term "Prime Minister".
When there was finally a different Government, there were plenty of people who could hardly be expected to notice any real change. One elderly lady, so the story goes, and a long-time "Dev" supporter, read in the paper to her astonishment that "The Prime Minister and Mrs. Costello" had left together for France. So shocked was she at the thought of "Dev" going off with another woman, that she never voted for him again.
It was while trying to settle myself into the editorial chair occupied until only last week-and for nearly five years before that—by Desmond Albrow that this anecdote came to mind. It is true that I have sat here before, when Desmond has been away, but now it is quite different; for every time some such expression as "ask the editor" is used, everyone, including myself, starts looking round for Desmond Albrow!
But, alas, he is no longer here.
I say "alas" in no over-sentimental sense, much as I do. and will continue to, miss Desmond's pleasant, interesting and always very instructive company. Rather is the word meant to imply, in a more dispassionate sense, what is obviously a big loss to the CATHOLIC HERALD.
But there is another reason why the expression is dispassionate more than sentimental (though the latter is far from being absent!) and that is that Desmond's very special contri • bution to the life of this paper finished as it had begun, in an
orderly and thoroughly thought-out fashion, executed at every stage in between with a sure and mature touch. Desmond's final departure in fact had all the qualities of a "planned withdrawal."
Desmond, in fact had begun to feel, and it was entirely his own feeling and decision, that having come to the CATHOLIC HERALD with a definite contribution to make, his contribution was nearing its completion. His long experience of journalism told him that his own best work for the future probably lay elsewhere.
I'm not saying that I wholly agree with this, as I know that Desmond could have continued to give an enormous amount to this paper that no one else could give. But he made his decision and carried it out, as I say, in his usual orderly and tidy fashion.
But it does remain to ask what, if we can isolate a single element, Desmond's paramount contribution to the paper was; and this I would unhesitatitngly describe as "the professional touch." This was by no means wholly lacking in the CATHOLIC HERALD before, but it was something that distinctly needed polishing and sharpening.
And this Desmond duly did with an unerring hand. all through the most important days, he it remembered, of the post-Vatican II period, when editing a Catholic newspaper was too important a job to be left (for once) to any but an expert!
Such a contribution as his has an importance which, 1 hope, will long outlive his actual tenure of the editorship. Just as a had editor leaves confusion that takes ages to rectify, so a first-class editor, as Desmond was, leaves sure framework within which to work. and from which to evolve further as time goes on. The fact that there is an inevitable sense of "vacuum" in the immediate aftermath of his departure is only another indication of the depth of his impression on the paper and on all who, like myself, were lucky enough to work on it under him.
Our loss meanwhile is the Sunday Telegraph's gain, and there is great consolation in the thought that as Desmond is only going across the road, we can (I hope often!) ask each other out for a drink merely by flashing the right signal from one side of Fleet Street to the other.