By David Hennessy
Alice Kennedy passed away at the age of 83 from coronavirus in hospital last week (1 April).
Alice was well known from her work with the Irish Elderly Advice Network where she was chair and also for her organisation of the Irish Pensioners Choir. In addition to that, she was also involved with the Irish Pensioners of East London Forum.
Tributes have come from far and wide with Ambassador Adrian O’Neill and Foster and Allen, whom Alice’s choir recorded two songs and videos with, expressing their sadness.
While she was sick in hospital, musicians known to Alice took to social media to play for her recovery. When the sad news broke that Alice had passed, they continued to play to her memory.
Alice came from Clonaslee in Laois. She worked in John Lewis for much of her working life and was so popular there she continued to be invited to, and attended, their Christmas parties long after she retired. Her husband Frank came from Tipperary and passed away fifteen years ago.
Had Alice passed away in normal circumstances, any church that held her funeral would have been packed while the sad reality of the Covid-19 pandemic is that those who wish to pay their respects cannot do it in the traditional way. No funeral details are yet known.
In a statement Alice’s family thanked the Irish community in London and President Michael D Higgins for their kind words about Alice: “Our hearts are broken and her loss to our family can never be replaced. Her departure is so sudden and no words can express the loss we feel. We are a large loving family and Alice was at the heart and bosom of our family. We will miss her so much.
“The family also wishes to thank the London Irish community who has contacted us in great numbers to offer their condolences to us, Alice’s family. We are so proud and deeply moved by the tributes to Alice that has come from far and wide. We are honored also to have received a kind message of sympathy from the Irish Ambassador Adrian O’Neil who met our Alice several times at the Irish Embassy. We appreciate the kind words and condolences that our president, Michael D Higgins, expressed about Alice also. This was a real boast to us.
“Finally, we wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to the Irish Elderly Advice Network. Margaret, Nora and Sally, who have been supportive beyond measure. Also, to Alice’s Irish Pensioners Choir members with whom Alice spent her most happy and precious moments. A final word of heartfelt thanks to Father Pat in all he did for Alice. Our family can’t thank you all enough.
“Our sadness finds healing moments as we read and watch countless videos and articles about Alice’s life in London – a life of giving and caring for her community of Irish elders.”
The Irish Embassy in London said on their Facebook page: “Ambassador O’Neill and all in the Embassy are deeply saddened by the death of Alice Kennedy, the chair of the Irish Elderly Advice Network, a beautiful voice in the Irish Pensioners Choir and stalwart of our community in London.”
Conor McGinn MP told The Irish World: “Alice could light up even the gloomiest room with her smile, wit and the glint in her eye. It was only recently that we had a sing-song together in the House of Commons with the Irish Pensioners’ Choir. Events in Parliament are normally a sedate affair, but Alice and her friends were having none of that and we raised the Westminster roof that day.
“Alice was dedicated and serious about her work with Sally, Nora, Margaret, Seamus and all the team at the Irish Elderly Advice Network. She chaired the organisation with huge commitment and vision.
“She is such a huge loss for the Irish community, and it is even more heartbreaking because of these awful circumstances. To her many friends and her loved ones, I pass on my condolences on her death but also express my joy at having had the pleasure of knowing her.”
Sally Mulready, chief executive of the Irish Elderly Advice Network, told The Irish World: “It’s desperately sad.
“She will be really missed, her presence. You were always conscious Alice was there and it was a consciousness of somebody who was oozing with positivity and good humour.
“She was very passionate about older people, about older Irish people and of course her organisation of the Irish Pensioners Choir.
“New people coming into the choir, she was always the one that would welcome them, nurture them, encourage them. Every aspect of our existence as an organisation, as a charity for older people, every aspect of it from welfare to healthcare to everything, Alice’s influence is in it. She was quite an extraordinary person for one person. Wonderful.
“Wonderful singer as well.
“The choir’s got better and better. Alice and Nora were doing some lovely artistic work.
“We would always have done our welfare service that Margaret ran but Alice wasn’t just all work, she was great fun.
“She was a very dignified person as well.
“Alice came here in the 50s and worked like they all did, worked and contributed, worked and contributed and she was still contributing, helping people, right up to the end.
“The last time I was speaking to her, she was on her to do yet another errand for another old person.
“When Alice came first (to the Irish Elders Network), she came after she lost her husband and she was absolutely bereft.
“It was a simple, ‘Hello, I’m Alice Kennedy’, and she walked in our door but never walked out again. There was always something to do, something to join.”
Sally refers to Alice also being involved in community initiataives in Manor House and East London as well as her work with the Irish Elderly Advice Network and choir.
“Her sense of presence was everywhere. Wherever Irish pensioners wanted a service or a network, she was very proactive on that, she cared passionately about older Irish people.
“Margaret (Geiger) was saying to me today, ‘It’s hard to believe we’re going to walk into our offices and she won’t be there’. It’s heartbreaking really. She was lovely.
“People will say she was a great age. Yes, she was a great age and a great lady but she was such an active person, it came as a big shock. She was texting right up to the end, the day before she died.
“I saw Alice every day. Alice was my boss, Alice was my friend and we’re all in a state of shock.
“I’m going to miss her terribly.”
John O’Connor, Chair of the Irish Pensioners Forum of East London, said: “Tragic news really.
“To see Alice go, words can’t describe how she’s going to be missed.
“Her work was tremendous, nothing was too much for her. Whatever it was that she had to do, she came in with a big smile on her face, rolled her sleeves up and got on with whatever had to be done. She’s such a loss to us, words can’t describe it.
“She was loved in the community. When she walked into a room, she lit the place up with a smile. In the six or seven years I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her in a bad mood or come in with a moan or a groan.
“Never complained, never moaned, never said, ‘We can’t handle this, we can’t handle that’, she just got on with it and she was an inspiration to us all really.
“She’s always got the big smie and her head held high proud to be Alice Kennedy. It was a joy just to be in her company.
“She was a very integral part of our little group.
“We had our tea dance once a month, she was always first in the door. She came all the way from Kentish Town.
“She was always putting anybody before herself. Whenever anything was to be done, she was the first to volunteer.
“Community was a passion for Alice. Anything to do with community, Alice was always the first to put her name down. She just loved the choir, she just loved mixing with people. Wherever she went, you couldn’t help but feel, ‘Here comes Alice, everything is going to brighten up now’.
“Alice had a positive attitude that was absolutely wonderful.
“She just loved life.
“On behalf of the Irish Pensioners Forum of East London, Alice will be sadly sadly missed by everybody in East London and may she rest in peace.”
Nora Mulready, Head of Culture, Irish Elderly Advice Network, told The Irish World: “She was a very caring person, very considerate person, very thoughtful person and she had a big smile and she is going to be very missed. I think the level of the tributes that have flown out of everywhere for Alice are entirely justified.
“She was totally, totally reliable and as well as being great fun and a wonderful friend and always the first person up to dance getting other people up to dance and full of ideas
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work and be friends with Alice for this long.
“She was absolutely at the top of her game at the age of 83. She was brilliant. She had a brilliant mind, she was extremely organised.
“We will miss her both on a personal level because we love her and we will miss her on a practical level because she did so much for the organisation. She was always there.
“Things that you almost wouldn’t even think about, Alice would say, ‘Oh, don’t worry. I’ve already done it’.
“She really did make a huge difference to running the organisation which is a huge testament to how brilliant she was because she was 83 and she was still involved at that level.
“Also with the choir she was the one who always made sure that everyone met at the right place when they were doing a performance and got to the venue and all that sort of stuff.
“Memories will bring comfort to people because you cannot remember Alice without smiling and that’s the bottom line.
“Alice lived a joy of a life. We had an awful lot of fun right up until the end. When she was in hospital, she knew how many people out there were rooting for her. By the second day she was in hospital, she had 100 text messages on her phone. She’s an 83 year old woman, she’s been in hospital two days and she’s got 100 text messages on her phone. I just think that says it all about Alice.
“She was an amazing woman, she was determined to squeeze all of the joy and all of the experience and adventure out of life and to share it with as many other people as wanted to.
“I am now just very comforted by the fact that I got to spend lovely, lovely times with Alice over many, many years. Although there is a lot of sadness and sorrow and a lot of shock that she’s gone, you cannot remember Alice Kennedy without smiling.”
Margaret Geiger, Head of Housing and Senior Welfare Advisor with the Irish Elderly Network, said: “She was a one off. Same old cliches but it’s true about Alice.
“She won’t just be missed in the Irish community, she did a lot of work in her own parish church. She had a great sense of humour, great sense of fun.
“She was very generous to other people. She would be coming to see me and she would meet somebody at the bus stop and she would find out if they needed any help or anything. She would say, ‘Margaret, you’ve got to ring this person, he obviously has care needs..’
“Alice didn’t care what nationality they were, she would help anybody.
“She loved singing. She loved dancing. She was a great waltzer.
“She was very young for her age.”
Ellen Ryan, CEO of London Irish Centre, said: “Alice was a proud and much loved member of the London Irish Centre community. We are deeply saddened by her passing. Through Alice’s work with the Irish Elderly Advice Network and the London Irish Pensioner’s choir, both based at the London Irish Centre, she was a much loved regular around the building. Our London Irish Centre team will never forget Alice’s bright smile and sense of fun, and we send our sincere condolences to her loved ones.”
Foster and Allen said on their Facebook page: “We were sorry to hear of the passing of Alice Kennedy RIP. We had the privilege of being joined by Alice, who was a member of The Pensioners Choir in London, when we recorded two songs and videos with them a few years ago. Our sympathies to all her friends in the choir and her family at this sad time.”
Karen Ryan, of IMDL who put on the Return to London Town Festival, posted on Facebook: “Alice was the leading light in the London Irish Pensioners Choir, a beautiful positive presence, always with a smile on her face, up for having the craic and with an energy that completely belied her years.
“Our deepest condolences to all Alice’s friends and family, particular Nora, Sally, Molly and all the Mulready family, and all members of the Irish Elderly Advice Network. Alice, you will be missed by so many – may you rest in peace.”