We are deeply sorry for your loss - the staff at Hanneman-Keller Funeral Home
GEORGE BUTLER IRISH
February 27, 1944 to September 13, 2022
George B. Irish, a rock for his family, a lifelong servant of God and a nationally respected newspaper industry leader, died Sept. 13 in Avalon, N.J. George’s death came the way he played golf, made decisions and made friends: swiftly. The cause was a massive heart attack.
A piece of George remains in everyone he touched during a peripatetic life journey that began in the Midwest and spanned homes throughout the Rust Belt, three Texas cities and, ultimately, the Northeast. In a social media thread among those who worked for him, one comment said it all: “Best boss ever.”
George had the fortune of two long and happy marriages. His 39-year union with Mary Rettig Irish produced three daughters, Diane, who died as an infant, Sandi, and Christi. Mary passed away in 2005. George then wed Jeannie Wetherill Irish in 2006 and embraced her daughters, Jayne and Amy. His seven grandchildren remember Papa as someone who was way more than a clapping fan at their sporting events. He was a sincere listener, a gentle life coach and a role model who placed enormous value on education. Although he was based in New York, he made it a point to return to his second home of Plano as often as possible to be near his family.
It is somewhat fitting that George began his heavenly journey as he walked downstairs to fetch the morning newspaper. Newspapers were at the center of his circle of life. Born to grain buyer Thomas Bone Irish and Carolyn Gilman Irish in Decatur, IL in 1944, George finagled a job as an 11-year-old paper boy in his then hometown of Toledo, OH. George borrowed $25.50 from his mother to fund the route. In a media finance exercise that would catalyze the next six decades of his work, he purchased papers for five cents and sold them for seven, meaning he could pay his mother back in five weeks with a slight profit.
What began on that bicycle route ultimately took George to New York City to be President of Hearst Newspapers after serving as Publisher of Hearst’s Midland (MI) Daily News, Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram, Beaumont (TX) Enterprise and the San Antonio Light. George’s post-college newspaper career began with a series of jobs in the Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers group out of Decatur, IL. His mentors at Lindsay-Schaub urged George to become an excellent writer and communicator, an attribute he believed helped him better understand and relate to the many journalists he encountered. George’s more than 20-page CV of civic activities includes participation in and honors from scores of community and industry organizations. While the lifetime achievement honors were humbling, George often said the most fulfilling moments of his career were in supporting the personal growth of his employees. Many individuals who worked under George rose to positions of influence. George oversaw the beginning of the print transition into the digital age. He encouraged his editors to innovate and to always pursue even the most demanding of stories. Each newspaper he published improved during his tenure. He also made many difficult and challenging decisions as the industry began to downsize in the early 2000s.
When George retired in 2008, he embarked on a second career as Vice President and Eastern Director of The Hearst Foundations. George and his team spotted philanthropic opportunities in cultural, educational, health and social services. The foundations made thousands of grants during his tenure and have awarded more than $1 billion since their inception.
Charity was in George’s DNA. “Everyone has a calling to help,” he once wrote. “My calling came from my parents who didn’t have much. But they taught me the obligation of giving.” He walked the talk as a generous supporter of his college alma matter, Millikin University, and the Catholic institutions where he studied as a young seminarian. His belief in the aggregating power of the United Way resulted in the raising of millions of dollars during his chairmanships.
George had audiences with Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. He also had meetings with almost each modern U.S. President since Gerald Ford. He had a special affinity for George W. Bush, who he first met in Midland, TX. W referred to him as Jorge. He was equally at home in the neighborhoods of any community where he served or at a rally of farmworkers hosted by Cesar Chavez.
“We will be judged by the Almighty,” George wrote, “based on how we used our minds, our assets and our graces.”
George was predeceased by his first wife, Mary, who died in 2005. He is survived by their daughters Sandra Irish Draper (Kyle) of Denton, TX, and Christine Irish Sheedy (Malcolm) of Dallas. A third daughter, Diane Leslie Irish, died in infancy. Second wife Jeannie survives George. Her daughters are Jayne Ann Puccio (William) of Newton, PA, and Amy Wetherill Cooley (Michael) of Villanova, PA. George’s grandchildren are Carson Draper, Samuel and Luke Sheedy, Natalie and Charlie Puccio and Alexandra and Anna Cooley. He also is survived by brothers, Charles Irish of Centerville, OH, and John Irish of Toledo, OH. He is predeceased by his brother Thomas Patrick “Pat” Irish.
The family welcomes guests to a visitation, Thursday, Sept. 22, from 5-7 p.m. at Hanneman-Keller Funeral Home, 416 S Arch St., Fremont, OH 43420
A funeral mass will be held Friday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Church, 709 Croghan St., Fremont, OH 43420. The mass will be livestreamed on the Hanneman-Keller Funeral Home Facebook page. Father Matt Frisbee will preside.
A second funeral mass will be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Oct. 19 at 4 p.m. His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan will preside.
Pallbearers are Malcolm Sheedy, Samuel Sheedy, Luke Sheedy, Kyle Draper, Carson Draper and Robert Irish.
The family requests that In lieu of flowers, donations be made to any of the following charities: Millikin University, 1184 W. Main St., Decatur, IL 62522, Millikin.edu; Society of The Divine Word, 1985 Waukegan Rd., Techny, IL 60082, Divinewordgifts.org; Ben Rogers I Have a Dream Program, 2390 Dowlen Rd., Beaumont, TX 77706, ieainspires.org; The JAG Fund, 955 Red Coat Farm Dr., Chalfont, PA 18914, Jagfund.org.
Hanneman Family Funeral Homes is honored to serve George’s family and encourage those to share a fond memory or condolence by visiting www.hannemanfuneralhomes.com.