Tributes to Gerard McKenna, great friend of Allen Hall

In March we heard the sad news that Gerard McKenna, former tutor and assistant warden of Allen Hall, had passed away.

Gerard was a much loved friend and longtime supporter of Allen Hall over many years. In recent times he was an active member of Allen Hall Advisory Committee and played an instrumental role in organising the hugely successful 50th anniversary reunion weekend in September 2011.

Gerard was a warm and friendly man who was held in high regard by everyone he met. Allen Hall and the University of Manchester certainly owe him a great deal.

We wanted to share with you two heartfelt tributes to Gerard, written by two of his longtime friends.

The first tribute is written by Maureen Mulholland, Chair of Allen Hall Advisory Committee and a longtime personal friend::

“I met Gerard soon after arriving as an undergraduate student at Manchester and as undergraduates and later as postgraduates we worked on the committee of the University Catholic Society-he as Chairman, I (if I remember rightly) as lecture secretary.   He and I both did postgraduate research, I in Law and he in Latin; in those days non-science postgraduates were few and had no proper base in the University so we were nomads, almost always in the library; his thesis – on Roman Transport – and mine- concerned with the effects of liability insurance on road traffic law – even provided us with occasional if rather rarefied comparative discussions over coffee!

When I returned to Manchester as a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, Gerard had moved back to the University from the civil service as assistant registrar. He was a University administrator in the fine tradition of Vincent Knowles, for many years the consummate Registrar and Gerard’s mentor; it was a tradition of administrators who were competent, discreet and wise, whose written communications were faultless and elegant and who cared deeply about the University, its staff and its students.  Having served as administrator of several departments, notably of the Medical School, he then became head of the Accommodation Office – a role which he performed for many years with distinction. As a member of Law staff for many years, I was always aware of the importance to students that they should be properly housed and provided with appropriate pastoral care, and the Accommodation Office, under Gerard, was completely reliable and caring.

Gerard had been a resident, then tutor, then Vice Warden of Allen Hall and was always concerned with its welfare, as he was with all student accommodation. I served for some years on the Board of St Gabriel’s Hall and later he became its chairman, succeeding Dr Michael Hartley. He was also a member of Allen Hall Committee, and indeed of several other Hall committees and, both before and after retirement, he was active in the cause of good accommodation of and care for students.

I had known Allen Hall from its beginning in 1961 and became formally involved with it when the then warden asked me to join the Board of Management and to chair the Hall Consultative Committee, a forum for the students in Hall to represent their views. Later I took over from Professor Joan Walsh, the Chair of what was then the Management Committee. In this role, particularly, I was always grateful for Gerard’s wisdom, his thoroughness, his complete reliability and his commitment to the good of the students.

During the early 2000s, changes in the University in the ‘catered’ or ‘traditional’ halls of residence were undoubtedly threatened by a new regime which, seemingly seeing things only from a monetary point of view, regarded the provision of small residences, with social and catering provision, as an unnecessary expense.  In this crisis Gerard showed fierce and well-argued opposition to the abolition, devaluing or downgrading of Allen, St Gabriel’s and similar Halls and the valuable role of the wardens.  As ‘Chair’ of Allen Hall’s committee, now downgraded to a mere advisory function, I was grateful for his support and vast experience in University matters, as wardens and committees fought to retain our residences. He was a crucial member of  group which we formed with the other Chairs and wardens of the ‘collegiate’ halls and which, I believe, has been instrumental in the University’s now acknowledging the immense value to ‘the student experience’ of Halls such as ours.

Gerard’s influence for good in the University, and especially in the welfare of students, was considerable. His commitment to Allen was almost life long and, typically, he was a prime mover and an important member of the organising committee of the Allen Hall Jubilee in 2011.  His tireless work for that involved countless negotiations and long and complicated phone calls and emails with different departments of the University. He also organised the special Mass on the Sunday and wrote the Order of Service complete with readings and hymns.  He undoubtedly had a major responsibility for that most successful event which he thoroughly enjoyed, and he was soon helping in the setting up of the Allen Hall Alumni Association.

In addition he was a passionate supporter and Chairman of the University International Society, for which he worked tirelessly. He was, with Bernard Richards, researching the Allen Hall archives with a view to the publication of a history of Allen Hall. He also worked for his parish, St Pius X, Alderley Edge, and for his Local Pastoral Area and was an active member of the Manchester and North Cheshire Newman Circle. He was an enthusiastic member of the University Chorus and in recent years he and my husband, John, have enjoyed and supported each other’s choirs, especially in performances of such great choral works as the B Minor Mass, the Dream of Gerontius and the Mozart Requiem. Sadly, Gerard  was no longer able to sing in the Brahms requiem this year, part of the suffering which came upon him over the last two years or so, which was so sad to see and so bravely borne.

Gerard was a courteous, warm and friendly man who remained faithful to his family, his friends, his colleagues, his faith and his University, which owes him a great deal. He was careful, meticulous, and hardworking, and he was also kind and caring, with a quiet sense of humour and a keen interest in ideas as well as in music. He was extremely modest and would, I am sure, have been amazed at the number of friends from all eras, colleagues and fellow parishioners who attended his funeral.

It will be a tribute to his memory to see Allen Hall re-opened and the Alumni Association flourishing. May he rest in peace.”

Maureen Mulholland (nee O’Brien)

April 2013.

The second tribute comes from Michael Hartley, who delivered the following eulogy before gathered family and friends at Gerard’s funeral:

Tribute to Gerard McKenna at his funeral at St Pius Church, Alderley Edge, Wednesday 3 April 2013:

“I am Michael Hartley, a friend of the McKenna family for more than 50 years.  I am honoured that I have been asked to speak about Gerard’s life and times.

Gerard was born in February 1938.  He attended the Preston Catholic College, a Jesuit School.  It is interesting that Gerard finally reached the status of Assistant Registrar at the University of Manchester.  A classmate has just ended his career as Archbishop of Liverpool.  Clearly a good year!

On leaving school, Gerard entered Manchester University as a student of classics.  He graduated with Honours in Latin and Greek.  He had always been interested in transport, for example driving buses in his vacations.  Indeed he held a Public Service Vehicle Driving Licence for many years.  Perhaps this is why he spent two happy years engaged in research into Roman transport at the time of the Caesars.  Traffic congestion in Rome at that time was truly deplorable, significantly worse than Manchester today!  Gerard was awarded his Master’s Degree in 1962.

As a postgraduate student Gerard lived at Allen Hall.  You may be surprised to learn that I have the most vivid memories of Gerard leading the Hokey-Kokey round the Hall during a student disco.  He enjoyed every moment!

After graduating, Gerard trained as a tax inspector.  I recall that occasionally we had a “businessman’s lunch” together at a café in Piccadilly.  The cost was a modest 5 shillings (25 pence today).

Later, Gerard joined the staff of the Registrar’s Department at Manchester University under the leadership of the then Registrar, Vincent Knowles.  At the same time, Gerard became a Tutor and, later, Vice-Warden at Allen Hall.  He was there for eleven years.

His first major job in the Registrar’s Department was Secretary to the Medical Faculty where he spent ten years.  Thereafter he served as Head of the Accommodation Office.  He had a staff of thirteen, and was responsible for providing accommodation for several thousand students each year, in catered halls, self-catered halls, flats and private houses.  No mean task!

In 1997, Gerard retired from full-time work with the rank of Assistant Registrar, though he continued part-time for three further years.

In retirement, he participated in a range of voluntary activities.  There is time only to highlight some of his principal involvement.

For many years Gerard was the Secretary of the University Chorus for which he had a tremendous regard.  Members are singing here today.

For the last twelve years, Gerard has been the Treasurer of the International Society.  The Society is a charity which supports international students in the Greater Manchester area.  It has over 5,000 members from over 120 countries.  It provides weekend visits around the country, educational classes, training and social events, and works closely with schools in the local community.  It is open to all.  The Treasurer’s role is clearly a demanding one.

For many years, Gerard has served as Chair of the St Gabriel’s Hall Committee.  In fact he attended his last meeting as recently as early December last.  He was also a member of three further Hall Committees.

Gerard had a wide circle of friends spread over many parts of the country and kept in touch with them all.  Chris and I had a “special relationship” with Gerard.  One highlight was the occasion when he acted as MC at our wedding in September 2008.  We have a lovely photo of him proudly wearing a badge of honour announcing himself as MAGISTER CONVIVIUM!

In earlier years, Gerard enjoyed hill walking.  He joined me on many occasions when we visited the Lake District, Wainwright’s books in hand.  We scaled Scarfell, Helvellyn, Red Pike, Great Gable and others.

Over the years, Gerard, I, and others travelled far and wide; Norway, Sweden, Heidelberg, Vienna and the south of France.  We went by car, with Gerard, who loved driving, as the “principal driver”!  Some of these visits were to friends who had lived in Allen Hall all those years ago, two of whom have sent their condolences, and would have very much liked to share with us today. One first class trip was to Greece.  He related well to the classic sites he recalled from student days.

In his more private life, Gerard was close to his family and had a special regard for his niece, Amanda, and nephew, Anthony.  He enjoyed visiting his family, and especially the various cruises to such places as Iceland and Norway.

Throughout his career his Christian faith has been the inspiration for all his multitude of activities.  He was involved with his church here in Alderley Edge.  He kept a ‘low profile’ but contributed greatly to the smooth running of the parish.

We recall the Beatitudes.  One particular Beatitude is very relevant today:

“Happy are those who mourn

They shall be comforted”

The presence here today of so many people representing each of Gerard’s interests, together with many former university colleagues, is a remarkable tribute to the man and a comfort to the family.

Thank you all for coming. May he now rest in peace.”


About allenhallalumni

Allen Hall Alumni Association is for alumni and friends of Allen Hall, University of Manchester. The Association aims to promote lifelong friendships and networking between former residents and friends of Allen Hall through events, reunions and regular communications, whilst working to establish contact with as many alumni as possible. The Association was formed in 2012 in the aftermath of a hugely successful reunion weekend held over the weekend of 3-4 September 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hall. Look out for exciting news and events coming in 2013.
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