“I think I still miss him. I was the oldest. He used to call me his pet. This is my dad. I loved him so much.”
Marie was in her early twenties and living in France when she received a phone call from home to say her father was fine.
Mary (67) was the eldest of Tom and Pauline Kennedy’s four children, born in 1954. The couple were from Dublin 7 but had moved to Klondalken, where Tom worked as an insurance clerk.
Pauline and her sister got married on the same day and moved in next door to each other. The families lived across the road from Graham Norton, before he moved to Cork.
Mary has fond memories of her father.
“My dad used to read what we used to call fun before we went to bed, he’d sit there by the fireplace and we’d be kind of around them,” she told host Brendan Courtney on RTE Life’s Keys To My show.
“My mother was very strict and would say ‘Wait until your dad comes home.’ We would say ‘Big’, because he was kind of weak.”
She was the first in her family to graduate from university.
“I can remember my dad was very proud when I graduated. I spent a lot of time in the library, I worked hard. I was totally obsessed, and I was studying and studying and studying. It was a pen and look at the end point,” she smiles.
Marie moved to Rennes in France in 1976 to teach English, sharing an apartment with her friend Jill.
“During the time I was here, my father passed away unexpectedly. It is an important place and I feel very happy to have the opportunity to revisit it,” she explains.
“I think the way it happened, Jill and I were on Easter vacation and got a phone call from Dublin to say that my dad – who was golfing, it was a Saturday – had taken a turn. I didn’t realize until I got back to Dublin that he was already dead, that he was injured Having a heart attack on the golf course.
“You can imagine how those two weeks were, it was awful. But there was a bittersweet moment when I came back here.”
She adds, “He was a great letter writer and he wrote me letters all the time. I actually brought them to show you. When I got here there was a book he wrote that didn’t arrive until after he died.”
“He actually wrote it on March 11th. It didn’t arrive until I came back. He was here waiting for me when I got back. So you can imagine, it was really sad because he wasn’t with us anymore and he always signed it ‘Take care of yourself’.”
“I think I still miss him. I was the oldest. He used to call me his pet. This is my dad. I loved him so much.” Mary is touched when she remembers his awakening.
Vincent’s mortuary, the neighbors said ‘Don’t go see him, remember him like you saw him last January when you were leaving to go back to Rennes and I’m sorry I didn’t,’ she cries, as Brendan consoles her.
“I guess I wanted to see him lying in the coffin to say goodbye. That didn’t happen. He was beautiful… He was a special man.”
Mary returned to Ireland, when she got a job teaching Irish and French at Coláiste Bride in Clondalkin.
My mother was a widow now. I was the eldest. “I should go home now,” I said, “help with money.” I’m happy with the way things went,” she recalls.
Marie had to pack her bags and leave RTE nearly three years ago because 65 is the mandatory retirement age for station employees.
In the late 1970s, I applied for a job as a part-time continuity broadcaster at RTE.
“I answered the ad, but I didn’t tell anyone. I got a part-time continuity job, which I combined with working here,” she recalls.
“I was a celebrity here in Klondalken! What they didn’t see was when I did my ad and the show started, I would then take their copies and correct them the next morning – I wasted no time.”
Marie went on to become one of RTE’s major stars, hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995 and topping magazine programs such as Nationwide and Open House.
“I think if people have the energy and the desire to work, they should be allowed to keep working,” Mary says.
“Honestly, I’m 68 and I don’t feel any difference in my head from what I felt maybe 20 years ago.”
But she did not want to move the feathers and left quietly.
“I was employed and therefore had to retire at 65. That is not the path I would have chosen,” she points out.
“I am a real person for sticking to the rules, but I didn’t like the rules. I didn’t like the fact that 65 was a watershed point.”
Mary marked her departure by appearing on Dancing with the Stars. A mother of four was downsized from the home she raised her children in Nucleon and found love again after her marriage ended in 1997.
“I don’t think anyone who gets married wanting anything other than that will be forever until death do us part. It doesn’t always happen,” she says.
“It was important to me that the kids had the same school, the same friends, and that my ex-husband and I were a parent,” she says.
“They’re all like adults now, they’re good people.”
Marty Whelan surprised Marie with a look at Keys To My Life.
The couple laughs when they remember how tongues were shaking about whether there was anything romantic going on with them because they get along so well on screen.
Mary laughs, “I remember someone said they were having lunch at a certain pub on the north side of Dublin, which is not far from where you live, and they were saying ‘yes sure, they’re having an affair’.”
“Every time something close happened between us, or something funny happened, we’d say ‘This is for the woman at Coachman’s.'”
Keys To My Life premieres on RTE One tonight at 8.30pm.