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Des Byrne – An Appreciation

Des Byrne died recently after a brief illness. He had not been in the best of health for the past year or so but his death seemed to come out of nowhere and was a shock to the many people who admired him and cared for his gentlemanly ways. In the marketing research field, and indeed in the wider media and communications area, Des was bona fide class-A royalty. He had a reputation as a ‘big mind’. He never lost his innate down-to-earthness and could magically distil reams of complicated data into clear and precise action guides in a short time. A pen picture of Des would see him in his office surrounded by towers of books and stacked reams of data printout, intensely making notes on a pad and checking his calculator. Then, he looks up, his glasses sparkle, a huge smile breaks out and he quietly exclaims: “I’ve got it!” He was a source of fascination to many of the young researchers he trained and guided, always with avuncular kindness and then on for more over a pint and a Chinese meal. These wonderful gifts were observed and valued by his research colleagues and clients. Presentations by Des were never just about the delivery of ‘results’ but about imparting wisdom and guidance. Once, he presented a complex quantitative survey’s findings with only a couple of references to specific stats – the rest was about the real story in the figures. Oh, and it also entailed a diversion to the early history of the horse to further enlighten the issues. Following Westland Row CBS and UCD, Des’s career began as a backroom boffin in Aer Lingus – a brand for which he forever had a grá. He joined Irish Marketing Surveys (IMS) under the baton of John Meagher and, alongside Eamonn Williams, Robin Addis, Charles Coyle and Graham Wilkinson, pioneered a business in opinion polls and media reports. In 1985, Des, Graham and myself left IMS to form Behaviour & Attitudes. Des soared in his career, forever pushing for creative and problem-solving approaches and writing papers such as Consilience and Architectural Design for Castles in the Air. He was always amused when accused of polymath tendencies. He loved science and literature and read voraciously. He devoured history and political biographies and wrote a book about his grandfather’s death and the Dublin Fusiliers in World War 1. He was a lifelong Irish soccer supporter and a member of the infamous Stuttgart Six (don’t ask!) and music fan – always remembered for belting out Johnny B Goode with a bar band at Christmas parties. He will be irreplaceable.

-Phelim O’Leary

As originally featured on Marketing.ie

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