Readers from the Portlaw area will recall the feats of William ‘Bill’ Forde (66), who was born in the Tannery Town and has lived in West Yorkshire for most of his life.
Bill, who was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995, is enormously proud of his Portlaw roots and has regularly kept in touch with The Munster Express in recent years.
An author of 30 children’s books and a founder of Anger Management courses in Great Britain, Bill is also an outstanding community volunteer.
And those efforts have been saluted by his local community (in Kirklees, West Yorkshire) via the George Speight Award, which recognises sterling and ongoing voluntary work.
Bill’s life goes beyond the average tale of those sons and daughters of Eireann who crossed the Irish Sea in bygone decades in pursuit of work and a new beginning.
The father of five truly wove himself into the fabric of the community which he became a part of, spending countless hours, weeks, months and years giving back to an area which has given him so much.
Between 1990 and 2005, Bill donated a whopping Stg£200,000 to charitable causes through books sales, winning him the admiration of luminaries including Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, the late Diana, Princess of Wales and the late Dame Catherine Cookson.
The George Speight Award, named in honour of one of the award’s trustees, is the latest public recognition which Bill has received thanks to a lifetime of volunteerism.
His efforts are a timely reminder of the voluntary heroes and heroines who live among us in every community, their efforts a welcome respite from the drudgery of virtually inescapable bad news.
And in his native Portlaw, where one day (many years from now, one hopes) Bill’s ashes will be dispersed, one finds a town with many local champions made of similar stuff.
Take John Corcoran, for example. John, who ran a popular takeaway business for many years on George’s Street, lives and breathes for Portlaw United AFC.
When people talk about ‘the lifeblood of a club’, anyone familiar with soccer in this city and county will tell you that John could be used as an almanac entry alongside any such label.
From dressing room construction to league winning success and the recent installation of an Astroturf pitch on the club’s playing pitch at ‘The Paddock’, none of it could have happened without John. That he’s one of life’s gentlemen goes without saying.
Seamus Crotty of Brown Street, who has devoted so much of his spare time to Portlaw GAA Club over seven different decades, is another whose magnificent efforts spring to mind.
Come hail, rain or shine, if a job needs doing at Páirc de h-Indeberg, Seamus will be there to lead or assist, without the slightest bit of fuss. One couldn’t imagine the GAA in Portlaw without Seamus Crotty.
I could go on, listing members of the local Musical Society, Lourdes Aid, Saint Vincent de Paul, Foróige, Tidy Towns, Credit Union, Fountain Centre, etc – a long list of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
None of those mentioned in this column have sought headlines or the limelight, but by God do they deserve our thanks. In fact, we should shout their names aloud from the mightiest hilltops!
That strong sense of selflessness, perhaps muddied somewhat by the Celtic Tiger’s paw, should now return to the forefront of many communities in these financially constrained times.
But in towns like Portlaw, where the Celtic Tiger remained a stranger, that strong sense of community and of giving something back to the community has been a powerful civic constant for decades.
In fact, that strong social sense is one of our greatest strengths as a county, a point relayed to me by many non-Waterford friends and relatives of mine.
That Bill Forde, one of our own, should carry the torch of volunteerism so wonderfully in his adopted West Yorkshire home, should come as no great surprise. It’s in the blood.
To different Irish generations, the word volunteer carries slightly different connotations. But even those differing definitions are tied together by a common cause: working for something greater and more meaningful than yourself.
And through selflessness, through a spirit of service to one’s community, through the essence of friendship and the ethos of helping others, we as a county and we as a country will get through this economic mess. Governments won’t solve our woes. People will.