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Lynn Ruane: In remembrance of my friend, Graham Jones

Graham Jones, who died earlier this month, lived an extraordinary life. Here, Lynn Ruane explains about the difference he made to the people around him.

Lynn Ruane Independent Senator

ON 8 DECEMBER, Graham Jones died surrounded by his family at his home in Dublin after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was 42 years of age. Graham had worked as a criminal defence lawyer after graduating from UCD before leaving law to set up a community organisation to help young people in Dublin 8 in 2011. He began training to be ordained within the Church of Ireland in 2016 after being called, and his ordination was brought forward to November after he received his diagnosis. Here, Senator Lynn Ruane remembers Graham, his extraordinary life, and the difference he made in the world. 

The first time I saw Graham Jones, I was looking out at a lecture hall of full of faces.

I was giving a talk to kids from schools that are linked with the Trinity Access Programme at TCD, along with some parents and teachers. Every year, TAP asks some past Access students to share their stories with students from similar backgrounds, and although I was always happy to do this, today I was in a hurry. 

To the left of my view, I saw a man smiling with what seemed like such purpose. I couldn’t help but be distracted by him as I gave my talk. This man genuinely looked excited and I could already feel that he was going to make a dart for me as I tried to leave to return to my own lecture. 

As I left the stage, walking with as much purpose as his smiling, I quickly made my way for the door. It wasn’t to be – I would be late to class. 

“Lynn, my name is Graham Jones”. It took no longer than a couple of minutes of talking with him to realise that I was in the presence of a man with huge empathy and love, and a passion as big – if not bigger – as mine in addressing inequality in the education system.

I meet many people with this passion but there are a small few who not just care about education for all, but they also have vision, real vision, as to how to achieve this. He was one of those people.

He spoke about the Solas Project on Marrowbone Lane in Dublin 8, which he co-founded, which helps children and young people in the area understand their self-worth and take advantage of their potential. When he talked about it, he spoke with a passion and honesty that made you want to be part of it, no matter how late you were for class.

Graham’s drive to change the lives of young people affected by social and educational disadvantage was obvious to see after my first visit to Solas. I was particularly impressed with The Yard, which was set up to work with 16-to-24-year-olds, some recently out of prison and others not engaged in employment or education. Graham once gave me one of the beautiful wooden crafts that one of the young men had made. My gift was a wooden pen. I wish I could find it.

It didn’t take long the two of us to start working together on smaller initiatives. One of those was to change how schoolkids visited Trinity. We both agreed that showing school groups around Trinity as though they were tourists reinforced a sense that they were just visiting. School groups looked at the Trinity students through the windows, and it would remain that way if we didn’t change how kids who experience educational disadvantage interact with the university.

The following year when I was elected as the President of the Students’ Union, I set up specialised school tours for the young people Graham worked with and other similar groups across Dublin, such as Youthreach centres and Deis schools. Instead of being a tourist for the day, they would become a Trinity student for the day. Everyone got involved: the Science Gallery, the Hist (one of the student debating societies) and lots of students. We ran a mini lecture series delivered by Trinity students. The school students engaged in engineering classes and debating workshops and science workshops with the Science Gallery.

Paths 

My relationship with Solas grew and developed. As Graham began to train to be ordained within the Church of Ireland, I was elected to the Seanad but I continued to maintain a relationship with Solas.

Our passions were the same but our lives were moving somewhat away from each other. I always believed that our paths would continue to cross as we both in our own worlds continued to change the lives of those we care most about. I never expected to learn that Graham’s path towards being ordained would also take another direction.

Graham sadly died on 8 December and although my life is better for having known him, there was still so much to learn from him. What I loved most about Graham was he was blind to our differences; all he saw was our potential and our light, and most of all he knew it was inequality that stood in our way.

I would like to thank the Reverend Graham Jones for everything he was and for the legacy he leaves behind, I will continue to champion Solas in his memory.

I would also like to thank Graham’s wife Louise for giving me her blessing to write this piece in his memory.

Christmas is a special time of year and I will keep Louise, her three daughters and all families who face their first Christmas without their loved ones present in my thoughts.

To learn more about Graham and his work, you can read this interview with him from 2016 when he was about to begin studying for his ordination into the Church of Ireland or listen to this interview with him on Sunday with Miriam on RTE Radio One in November. You can read more about the Solas Project here

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About the author:

Lynn Ruane  / Independent Senator

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