The recent and unexpected death of Ted Bourke marks the passing of one of the industry’s founding forefathers. Ted was an industry legend and something of an enigma … highly respected and widely known, yet somehow very private and retiring.
Industry Legend Yet Something of an Enigma
Despite establishing one of the sector’s most successful and enduring mech/elec contracting firms (T Bourke celebrates it 50th anniversary next year), Ted remained somewhat aloof with very few people getting to know what really made him tick. This was all the more extraordinary given the very high profile T Bourke enjoyed as
a leading industry company, and that Ted himself enjoyed as a very proactive industry protagonist.
For instance, back in the 1970s and 1980s he was very involved in the affairs of what was then known as the Mechanical and Electrical Building Services Contractors Association (ME&BSCA). In the mid- 1980s Ted was Chairman and in this role provided leadership and led delegations representing the industry’s cause to Government bodies and other organisations such as RIAI. Throughout this time he also forged a very strong relationship with Genie Climatique (GCI), a European contracting body representing 12 countries at the time. Ted represented the Association, and its parent CIF, on the GCI Liaison Committee and it was during his tenure as GCI President that it held its annual convention in Ireland, a major coup for the time.
Down through the years T Bourke received many accolades for the quality of its work and execution of projects, such as the NSAI Striving for Quality Assurance Award on the Tralee Hospital project. It was also one of the first building services contracting firms to be awarded ISO 9002 Quality Management Systems certification in 1991 with Bertie Ahern, TD, the then Minister for Finance, making the presentation.
Through T Bourke Ted also supported and sponsored various industry events, especially those that had an educational element. For instance, shortly after Tallaght Town Centre was built he sponsored the CIBSE Ireland site visit and lecture to the centre, including a sit-down three-course meal for 100 participants. They also got free tickets to the newly-opened state-of-the-art cinema.
Ted was disciplined and believed in hard work and commitment. He could be very demanding but somehow managed to convey that authority and expectation in a very obvious but yet low-key and understated manner. That said, he was always very fair and willing to listen. However, you would have to have detailed facts and evidence in abundance if you were to challenge him on an issue. Even at that you might not convince him that your way was right.
Ted was always the one in control, the one who had to be in charge, yet was still a great leader who employed, trained and helped develop individuals who became renowned within the industry as leaders themselves. Integrity was critical to all activities, be it inter-personal relationships with colleagues/employees or with clients. T Bourke quickly established a reputation as a very valued and fair partner in the execution of building projects, and always had (still does) an unrivalled reputation for honouring debts in full, and on time.
T Bourke was Ted’s life, but so was his family and golf. The outside perception was that he was something of workaholic, and his sons David and Niall who now run the business grew up with project plans constantly strewn over the kitchen or dining room table. He regularly brought work home but, equally so, he valued his down time. His leisure activities, or rather activity (meaning golf), was equally structured and prioritised. He played religiously every Saturday and Sunday, and also every Wednesday, especially in the summer months.
He brought the same commitment and competitiveness he had in business to his golf. It too was a serious business and he played to win … it was not a mere pastime and opportunity to ramble ‘round a golf course and chat with some friends. Not surprisingly, he featured regularly on the BTU teams that travelled to play in the inter-region competitions with their counterpart societies in the UK.
Yet, for all that, he remained a very private person within the sector. He socialised to some extent with business colleagues but was very selective and, for the most part, avoided the mainstream events. He did have a regular weekly date for many years with other industry forefathers though, and this continued up to quite recently but gradually petered out as they all got older.
That said, Ted was anything but retiring. Up to the recent fall that ultimately led to his untimely death he very active within Dun Laioghaire golf club and was widely known in the restaurants and hostelries in Dalkey for his regular daily dining routine that typically took in quite a number of establishments rather than the same place every day.
The passing of Ted Bourke marks the end of an era in the history of modern-day mechanical and electrical contracting in Ireland. However, his legacy is testimony to the fact that you can survive, and even prosper, in such a competitive environment and still retain core ethical values and integrity.