Tributes to top journalist PJ McKeefry: truly one of a kind

Former Irish News sports editor PJ McKeefry (second from left) at his retirement 'do' with (left and right) colleagues Stevie O'Reilly and Jimmy McLoughlin, and Derry GAA legend Jim McKeever.
Tony McGee

THE Ulster GAA world in particular is deeply saddened to hear of the death of PJ McKeefry, who held the role of Sports Editor of The Irish News for many years.

PJ was a dedicated GAA man who made no excuses for that nor for being a dedicated Derry supporter.

Like most of us who blew in from the country, his home county mattered most but he was also a man who could see the best in any county aiming for honours.

For a number of years I worked alongside PJ as his Deputy Sports Editor.

It was a great learning experience and, while we didn't always see eye to eye on things, we never had any problems.

He was a kind and considerate person and an employee who gave well over 100 per cent in his work.

Being the Sports Editor, most of his work was done in the evenings dealing with the mountain of copy pouring in and making up the various sports pages in the Irish News.

He was one of a kind, an interested and hard-working newspaper man like many of those in his era.

PJ didn't keep to his working hours.

He arrived into the office – in the pre-computer days – with his portable typewriter around 11 o'clock every morning.

He sat down at his desk and typed out the sports schedule for the evening, leaving instructions for the subs who would arrive in, later in the afternoon.

He, of course, returned to his desk at teatime and worked until after midnight to see the paper 'put to bed'.

Those were the times when copy could be filed until up to 11pm and later for the next day's paper and PJ didn't want to miss any late GAA news.

At that time he lived in north Belfast and travelled home from work late at night throughout many years of the infamous troubles.

He always regarded Derry as his homeland and when he retired he wasted no time in returning to the Oak Leaf county and his roots.

As was explained in yesterday's Irish News, PJ wasn't always a newspaper man.

After moving out of college he became a school teacher for some time but it wasn't the job for him.

After having worked in England he returned to Ireland and so began his journalistic career.

On retirement he was honoured with a reception and presentation by the NI Sports Council for his contribution to journalism, before he moved off into the sunset of life.

Journalism has changed since PJ's days but his work style will never be forgotten.

The current Irish News sports editor, Thomas Hawkins, recalls PJ with great affection.

"PJ was a legend in journalism, a man who, during very difficult times, steered the Irish News sportsdesk very successfully for many years, his passion for Gaelic Games always shining through,'' he said.

"He helped me greatly in my first forays into journalism, when I started off filing freelance boxing reports way back in the 70s.

"PJ was a stickler for accuracy and clean copy, a very focused man, he put his heart and soul into his work.

"Many fine sports journalists were fashioned at the Irish News sportsdesk under PJ's tutelage including the late Micheal McGeary and also Stevie O'Reilly, who succeeded him in the sports editor's role when PJ retired.

"To his wife Eileen and family circle, I extend deepest sympathy from all at the Irish News sportsdesk. PJ will be sadly missed."

Tony McGee

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