In this age of specialisation, Tom Hardiman was a genuine polymath. In a career spanning seven decades, he provided intellectual leadership and made far-reaching contributions to Irish industry, commerce, finance, education, science, public service and cultural life.
He represented Ireland with distinction in European and global institutions. His salient characteristic was a strong commitment to practical state-building and to achievement of a meaningful position for Ireland in world fora.
Dr TP Hardiman, 1929-2020.
Tom was born in Dublin in 1929. His father was a train driver who died when his son was four, leaving a family of seven children.
He won scholarships through Coláiste Mhuire and University College Dublin, from which he graduated in engineering in 1951 and in mathematics in 1952.
He retained an acute consciousness of the opportunities that Ireland had afforded him. This was formative with regard to his strong public service ethic. He never countenanced emigration, notwithstanding lucrative offers from the United States in particular.
Material success was unimportant to him as against the commitment, in his own phrase, to 'Do something to make things better around here'. That phrase characterised his long life.
Tom commenced his career with the then Radio éireann on graduation, subsequently moving to television. He was the engineer in charge of the inaugural broadcast of Telefís éireann from the Gresham hotel in 1961.
He advanced rapidly through technical and programme management positions to become director general of RTé at the age of 39.
Tom's tenure included the initial period of turmoil in Northern Ireland, and he was an effective defender of the editorial independence of the national broadcaster, this not without occasional attendant controversy in his dealings with government.
He presided over a radical transformation of radio broadcasting, and brought about the evolution from the staid practices that had previously prevailed through to the vibrant community-based nature that characterises Irish radio today.
Raidió na Gaeltachta was a specific initiative that he advanced with great energy and enthusiasm.
On leaving RTé in 1975, Tom became active in broader domains. As chairman of the National Board for Science and Technology he brought a coherence, previously absent, to national science policy development and implementation.
He was an active and energetic president of the Confederation of Irish Industry, of the Marketing Institute of Ireland and of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.
He was also active on the National Planning Board and the Telecommunications Review Group, and chaired the Commission on Technological Education, which led directly to the setting up of Dublin City University (DCU) and the University of Limerick – the first new universities in the state. He was the first chancellor of DCU and was a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
Throughout the difficult economic period of the 1980s and early 1990s, he was emphatic that investment in education should remain a paramount priority.
He vigorously held that opportunities for youth, and hence the future wellbeing of the country, should not be compromised by the immediacies of constraints, however necessary in other areas. He reiterated this view against more recent economic travails.
He held chairmanships and directorships across a broad spectrum of Irish industry, commerce and finance. He was an active director, and accepted appointment only in instances in which he had a clear view of the contribution that he would make.
Tom could be tough-minded and decisive when required, but his quintessential old-world courtesy and gentlemanly comportment were never in abeyance.
Tributes to him attest to his mentoring of a generation of Irish leaders, giving freely of his vast experience, professional expertise, personal skills, and seasoned insights.
He was freely and in friendly manner accessible to people at all levels in organisations in which he was involved, and indeed to others who sought his advice, notwithstanding extreme pressures on his own time.
A mechanical and electrical engineer, Fellow of Engineers Ireland and a founding Fellow of the Irish Academy of Engineering, Tom was awarded the UCD Engineering Graduates Association Presidents’ Award in 2016.
The then EGA president and former president of Engineers Ireland, PJ Rudden, presenting the Presidents' Award to Dr Tom Hardiman in 2016. (Photos of Tom as RTé director general are in the background.)
Dr Tom Hardiman speaking after receiving the Presidents' Award in 2016. The first recipient of the award because of his extraordinary career spanning more than 50 years, according to PJ Rudden, he had also been chosen as the first UCD Engineering Graduates Association (EGA) president in 1983 when the EGA was set up by the then dean of engineering, Professor John Kelly. 'Tom was head and shoulders over any other candidate at the time' such was the esteem in which he was held nationally, Prof Kelly said.
On the international front, his contributions to European – Japanese business relationships and mutual understanding were recognised by his gazetting, by the late Emperor Hirohito, with the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun.
He was president of the International Institute of Communications in London; a member of CERD, the EU Advisory Committee on Research and Development in Brussels; chairman of the External Relations Committee of UNICE in Brussels; and chairman of the Irish Institute for European Affairs in Louvain.
He was a board member of the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe in Paris; a supervisory board member of the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Co-operation in Tokyo; deputy chairman of the EU-Japan Business Dialogue Round Table in Brussels and in Tokyo; and a governor of the Asia Europe Foundation in Singapore.
In recent years, he was particularly active in initiatives directed at enhancement of Sino-European relations in trade, economic and cultural spheres.
In his intellectual outlook he was a man of the Enlightenment. His clarity of expression in English and in fluent idiomatic Irish were well known.
Less well known is that he could read Latin with ease. His Enlightenment outlook did not preclude a strong religious faith, the core tenet of which was that there were many ways, appropriate to individual cultures, to approach the transcendental.
His extraordinary achievements were accompanied by a personal modesty, in public as in private life. He was a fascinating conversationalist when he could be prevailed upon to recount his experiences, which was altogether too rare.
A consummate man of action, he had an inveterate inclination to look to the future with optimism tempered by clear enunciation of effective initiatives to be executed immediately.
It was to his private amusement, and perhaps secret pride, that he on occasion heard himself described as 'Machiavellian'. That which was actually reflected, as he well knew, was his exceptional ability to bring disparate opinion to consensus by considering, understanding, mediating and channeling diverse perspectives toward meaningful action.
In 1955 he married Rosaleen Thornton, who survives him, and enjoyed an exceptionally close marriage. They had known each other since their teens.
He was acutely aware and appreciative of the gracious complement that she provided to his work on public occasions, and of her unstinting support to him over 65 years of true partnership. He is also survived by three daughters, two sons and 12 grandchildren.