Passing of Sean McNamara
Wednesday, 9 July 2014
Classmate Sean McNamara died of Hodgkin Lymphoma on May 5. He had only been diagnosed with this affliction just four weeks previously. He was only 59 years old.
 
It has been a very sad month for the McNamara family as Brian, the father of Sean, Conor, Tiernan and Kelly, died just days after Sean.
 
Sean’s funeral was held two weeks ago with Peter Macey (formerly Maciejewski) attending to represent Sean's mates from Dara.
 
The Canberra Times published a fine Obituary for Sean who had worked with the Canberra Times and was most recently a sub-editor with the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. It was written by Andrew Fraser, a good friend of Sean’s.
 
SEAN McNAMARA 
May 5, 1955-May 3, 2014
Sean McNamara was a larger-than-life character who could light up any gathering with his unbridled enthusiasm, infused with a deep knowledge of an eclectic range of subjects from aviation and military history to Major League and Australian baseball.
 
Journalist, public relations executive and “all-round good guy’’ (to borrow his own phrase of those he admired), Sean died in Canberra on June 3. He was 59.
 
A love of words shaped both his professional and personal lives, from his days of throwing papers for the Watson and Dickson newsagencies (first by bike, later from car) to his last job as the check sub-editor for The Daily Telegraph.
He was a standout in both roles.
 
As a youngster, he earned the newsagent’s ire on an almost daily basis for stopping to read the papers he was supposed to be “topping’’ (cutting a corner of the masthead to get a refund from the publisher).
 
At the Tele, he was the last pair of eyes on copy before the presses ran. He not only apprehended grammatical infelicities but was an activist fact-checker, often on the phone correcting and cajoling reporters (and not infrequently saving his colleagues from law suits).
 
Bookended by those two jobs, Sean’s working life was varied but always anchored in communications.
 
A flag-bearer for the then under-reported sport of baseball, Sean was a fair player (who once broke a leg sliding into base) but a more colourful writer on America's game. In the late 1970s, he succeeded in urging The Canberra Times then-sports editor John Hourigan to publish his reports of the Canberra competition at the weekends while Sean continued to work his day job at the National Library (where he was surrounded as “a base-grade clerk in the stacks’’ by yet more words).
 
His reports were so good, and his abilities so obviously broad, that the Times soon took him on full-time, and he covered the city he’d grown up in with great verve and attention to detail, from the courts to industrial relations and, of course, sport.
 
After four years with the paper, Sean moved into the world of public relations, but not for him the happy “events” and “marketing” sides of that industry. Sean went for the hard stuff.
He worked for Trans Australia Airlines, Budget Rent-a-Car and BP Oil.
He was the graceful go-to man at United Airlines in 1989 when a cargo door failed on a trans-Pacific flight and the resulting decompression blew out several rows of seats, resulting in the deaths of nine passengers.
Other roles required similar composure under relatively constant fire, including two years in public affairs for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and three years as senior communications officer with Airservices Australia.
 
A brief stint as editor of RAAF News in 1987 briefly broke up Sean’s public affairs roles, and in 1999 he returned to daily newspapers for good, relishing his role at the Telegraph, during which time the old court reporter studied and obtained legal qualifications.
 
A great yarn spinner, Sean had a depth of material, a quirky way with words and a wicked sense of humour. These skills were apparent from a young age, when he was known by his parents as “Buncha” (as in “bunch of fives’’, Sean having been born on the fifth of the fifth 1955), later to become “Jack’’ at Watson High and Daramalan College, growing into “Seamus’’ as he was known and loved for decades.
 
His passion for all things aviation led to Sean achieving his pilots’ licence and his rattling tales (often over a jar or three) of hits and near-misses, complete with actions and sound effects, were legion and uniformly hilarious.
 
His reading, and broad contacts, meant he was also mightily well informed of just what was going on in not only the aviation industry but beyond.
This made for an ideal check sub. Bill Watt, head of production for the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, described Sean as an “unbelievably committed professional’’ with a reputation for mentoring younger colleagues: “He certainly let them know when they were getting it right and when they were getting it wrong.”
 
He will be sorely missed. Vale Sean.