Sheila ConroySheila Conroy, our esteemed President, passed away on May 11th 2012, aged 95.
Sheila was many things in her long life - hotel worker, trade unionist, women's activist, Labour Party member, a widow, an adult educator and a prison visitor.
It is for her contribution to the Peoples College that we remember her most. It is her most enduring monument and she devoted her considerable energy and skills to ensuring first its survival first and then its continuing success. She believed that social and cultural activities were an essential part of adult learning and encouraged the development of the Debating Society and set up the Peoples College Choir.
She had many "firsts" - the most significant being that she was the first woman to be elected to the Irish Transport & General Workers' Union National Executive Council in 1955. She was also the first women to be appointed Chair of RTE, and the first women appointed to chair a state body. She was also a founder member of NAWI (National Association of Widows in Ireland).
She also served on the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Adult Education, the Health Education Bureau, the Rents Tribunal and St Patrick's Institution Visiting Committee.
Originally from Bantry, she worked as a waitress in Cork, where she helped organise hotel workers in the city to join the ITGWU. In 1944 she moved to Dublin and continued to be active in the ITGWU, culminating in her election to the Executive. She was obliged to resign from her union position on her marriage to John Conroy, General Secretary of the ITGWU (Irish Transport & General Workers' Union) in 1959.
On his death in 1969, her life took a new direction when she became organiser/secretary of the College in 1969 at the invitation of Ruaidhrí Roberts, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and founder of the college and became its President in 1988. In that year she was awarded an honorary fellowship by the College of Industrial Relations.
In 2001, an honorary degree was conferred on her by NUI Maynooth. She saw her involvement with Aontas and Foras Eireann as part of her commitment to promoting adult, workers and community education. She was an active participant in the work of the IFWEA (International Federation of Workers' Educational Associations) for several years.
The last years of her life were challenging but Sheila fiercely held on to her independence as long as she could. Her contribution to the life and success of her College will be long remembered.