“A sad day for Westmeath and for Athlone” was the response of Athlone’s elected members as news filtered through to the July meeting of the death of Austin Berry.
Mr Berry, who passed away on Monday morning at the age of 83, served on Athlone Town Council from 1999-2009, and was mayor for the 2004-2005 term. His autobiography, Stepping Back in Time, was published in 2012.
Leading tributes to his late colleague, current mayor Cllr Frankie Keena said Cllr Berry had been a great man who carried out his role with distinction.
He was helpful to all people at all times and “was always on the road, chatting to people and solving their queries. He will be sadly missed,” Cllr Keena said.
Cllr Paul Hogan recalled Mr Berry’s involvement in IUNVA and the ONE for ex-servicemen and women, and his love of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Eireann.
On each St Patrick’s Day, Mr Berry would also collect at church gates for Conradh na Gaeilge, he said, describing him as an extremely hard worker.
“He will be sadly missed by his friends, family, and neighbours on Assumption Road,” he said, adding that he hopes there will be an appropriate recognition of his contribution to Athlone and to politics at a future date in Athlone.
Cllr Aengus O’Rourke said Mr Berry had slipped away quietly, modestly, and discretely in a way that was true to form for a great man.
Although he had officially retired from the Army and from politics, he was never really off duty, appearing, in his neatly polished shoes and blazer, ready for duty.
He said Mr Berry had a great command of the English language and his home was always open to people. He performed all of his roles with great professionalism, grace, and modesty, he said, adding that there was a dark cloud over Athlone following news of his death.
“He was a man in politics for the right reasons - there to represent the people and not to represent himself,” said Cllr John Dolan, who described Mr Berry as very unassuming, a man who didn’t realise how well regarded he was, and who would probably be embarrassed by how highly thought of he was.
He said Mr Berry supported those who got involved in politics no matter what party they stood for.
Athlone’s newest public representative Michael O’Brien agreed, pointing out how he’d met Mr Berry often for tea or coffee, and that he was a great support to his election campaign.
“He was a great friend to the people of Athlone,” he said.
CEO Pat Gallagher sympathised with Mr Berry’s family and friends on behalf of the staff and management of Westmeath County Council.