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Rebuilding a life

30 November, 1999

Hugo’s life was shattered, and was slipping quickly out of control. Then Providence – and some caring friends – intervened. The names and details have been changed in this true story.

I first met Hugo O’Donnell when he was the general manager of a distribution company in Ireland. He was forty-one at the time. He was good at his job, as the profits over the preceding five years demonstrated. He had an excellent relationship with his customers and employees, and was meticulous in carrying out the responsibilities of his post.

He was married with one child, a girl aged twelve. His wife, Vera, was a nurse at the local hospital and ten years younger than Hugo. On the few occasions when I had met Vera, I had a strong suspicion that their marriage was on shaky ground. They had few interests in common, and Vera consistently complained that Hugo’s job provided very little opportunity for socialising and travel.

Apart from one share held by a solicitor for legal reasons, the company had only one owner, a man named John Casey. He was a fifty-year-old bachelor, and was quite content to leave the company in Hugo’s custody while devoting his own time to running fruit farms in foreign parts.

Out of the blue
Then, out of the blue, Hugo received a visit from the owner. John told Hugo that he had been advised by his Spanish accountant to sell the Irish company for tax reasons. He had agreed the terms of sale with a British corporation, which was primarily interested in getting rid of competition to its own sales subsidiary in Ireland.
For this reason, the new owners proposed to close the company in the following three months, making all of the employees redundant. They offered Hugo two years’ salary in lieu of notice, on one condition, however: Hugo must agree not to take part, either as owner or employee, in any competing entity.

A double blow
Within a month of his redundancy, Hugo’s daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour, and died within a few days. A few months later, Vera informed Hugo that she was seeking a divorce. She intended taking up a nursing post abroad and, since they now had no family responsibilities, she felt that their marriage had no future. Hugo saw little point in disputing the matter, and he instructed his lawyers to settle the formalities as speedily as was legally possible.

Shortly afterwards, Hugo was offered the post of sales manager in a company, and this he accepted. The events of the preceding few months had taken their toll, however, and Hugo found himself relying more and more on alcohol to silence the thoughts which occupied his mind and nagged his heart. His work suffered dramatically, and his employers had no option but to sever his contract.

Slipping downhill
At the request of a mutual friend, I arranged to meet Hugo in Dublin. He turned up an hour late, and was clearly under the influence of alcohol. It took no great insight to realize that he was slipping sharply downhill, and would very speedily become unemployable. With the assistance of some mutual friends, I arranged his admission as a patient under the care of the St. John of God brothers. With Hugo’s consent, I had a long talk with the specialist treating him. He confirmed my own conclusion that Hugo’s life could only be rebuilt if he became absorbed in a project which would give him a focus outside himself.

A glimmer of hope
At this stage, I providentially happened to meet the late Mother Mary Martin, founder of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. I told her Hugo’s story, and she advised me to contact a man named Leslie in London who had set up a group to assist people with similar problems. When I told him of Hugo’s work experience and success in the whole area of marketing and sales, Leslie smiled and told me that I was the right person at the right time for him.

Looking at my puzzled face, he explained. ‘We have just set up a company,’ he said, ‘to undertake the marketing of a whole range of specialist products produced in the third world. Virtually all of the people it will employ will come from our own group. From what you have said, Hugo could be the right person to take over as marketing manager. As a recovering alcoholic, he will almost certainly have the incentive to make the project work.’

Success story
Once I received clearance from the specialist in St John of God’s, where Hugo was still a patient, I brought him to see Leslie. When the programme was explained to Hugo, his enthusiasm was ignited, and his mind and imagination sprang to life. He quickly worked out a marketing plan, and developed a structure to ensure that the project would succeed. He contacted a host of former customers in both Britain and Ireland and, within a period of six months, the new marketing company was operating with outstanding success.

Today it employs twelve sales people and an office staff of six. It has a specialist buyer, whose task it is to go out to the producing countries and assessing the potential markets for its products. It provides the producers with a far higher price than they had previously obtained, and it gives all of the company staff a salary which is more than sufficient to meet their needs. Its profits are growing too, thereby providing a reserve for growth.

The vision of so many people, working together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has given a new hope to people whom the world would have discarded as failures.

This article first appeared in the Messenger (October  2006), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.