Terry MacDermott, who died on 29 January 2020 at the age of 97, was one of the four people who formed a steering committee that launched the North East Labour History Group in 1966. He was the organisation’s first Treasurer and Business Manager from 1966 to 1977, and handled the distribution and sale of the new Society’s Bulletin. He did this so well that the Bulletin made a profit, which was ploughed back into the Society’s funds. He then served as Chair from 1977 to 1982, and in 2017 was honoured for his services by being elected a Vice President of the Society.
A requiem mass for Terry was held at St Robert’s Roman Catholic Church in Fenham, Newcastle, on 20 February 2020, followed by a wake at Tyneside Irish Centre in Gallowgate. Both were well attended, and included a number of relatives who had travelled from Northern Ireland to attend Terry’s funeral.
Terry was born in the village of Draperstown, County Derry, in 1922, and attended local schools and technical college. After college he worked as a clerk for the Ulster Road Transport Board, and became an active trade unionist. He enrolled at Queen’s University, Belfast as a mature student, and after graduating came to Tyneside in 1964 as a tutor-organiser for the Workers’ Education Association (WEA). He established close links with local trade unions and was commissioned by Newcastle and District Trades’ Council to write a history of trade unionism on Tyneside published in 1965 as Centuries of Conflict, and in 1973 he co-authored (with J. F. Clarke) a centenary history of Newcastle and District Trades Council. After thirteen years with the WEA he was appointed to a lectureship in industrial relations at Newcastle Polytechnic, where he taught on courses for trade unionists and managers.
Terry was born into an Irish Nationalist family and never lost his desire to see a united Ireland. He was active in the Tyneside Irish Centre and was its Chair from 1986 to 1993. He registered for a higher degree at Newcastle University researching the topic of the Irish on Tyneside. However due to other commitments and declining health his thesis was never completed. The results of his research are to be deposited at the Tyneside Irish Centre. He was also active in the Newcastle Labour Party and served for several years as a magistrate.
After his retirement, Terry and his wife Eileen moved to the Irish Republic, but the lure of Newcastle proved too strong and they returned to live in Fenham. Terry underwent several major operations over the years but pulled through to reach the ripe old age of 97. He then suffered a series of strokes and died in hospital on 29 January 2020.
A Personal Tribute
Like many others, I have a lot of reasons to be thankful to Terry McDermott. In my own case, Terry gave me a job and a new life in the North East. I came for an interview at Newcastle Poly in 1979, and Terry was on the panel. He was kind and thoughtful in his questioning of a young man who had never had a full-time teaching job in his life, and he took a chance on me. I joined the team he was creating space for at a time when trade union education took place in the Colleges not the Polys. Terry’s commitment shone through. He’d make sure the doors were open to trade unionists where others thought they had no place.
There was also Jenny Beale – and Terry must have been one of the first in the country to appoint a woman trade union tutor. Doug Miller came next, and we all benefited from Terry’s commitment to teaching and his good fellowship. He soon had us all in the Society of Industrial Tutors, and travelling off to conferences with him at the wheel. He made sure we learnt from what was going on nationally and helped us to meet the people who were writing the books we were using.
We had to teach managers too in those days, but for Terry this was not a chore but a challenge and an opportunity. Who better to go into those classrooms than committed trade unionists? Terry’s achievement in creating a trade union studies group in a Polytechnic was a rare one, as was his far-sighted commitment to equal opportunities in practice as well as words. Most of all though, I shall remember his kindness and his nurturing of a group of colleagues who, like me, benefited both from his commitment and his good company. Thanks from all of us, Terry Mac.
These appreciations were first published in North East History Volume 51, 2020