Eamonn Casey was my loyal and supportive chairman when I was director of Shelter in the 1960s. A passionate advocate for the homeless, he pioneered the concept of housing aid centres that still form the basis of Shelter’s work today.
Above all, he was an inspirational leader, loved by my Shelter team and revered by the whole voluntary housing movement. He worked incredibly hard for at least 18 hours a day (this led to him falling asleep in meetings but he had an amazing capacity to suddenly wake and pick up the discussion as if he had heard every word). His devotion to his Catholicism – one I did not share – was beyond doubt; as we travelled together all over the country we could not pass a church without him stopping the car and popping in to pray. But he was also fun-loving and sociable.
He loved to laugh, to sing, and have a glass of whisky. Truth be told, he should never have become a bishop – he was too much of a human being – and I doubt he was ever as happy as he was with us. When it all fell apart, I begged him to let me balance the bad publicity by broadcasting all the good he had done, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He learned Spanish and became a humble missionary in a rural parish in South America, travelling miles in difficult conditions to say mass to a mere handful of people. His would be a tragic story if he had allowed it to be; instead, his lack of self-pity and continued, unpublicised service to others made it heroic.