2018 marks the 100th birthday of Josef Veselsky, Life President of the Irish Table Tennis Association and former President of the Swaythling Club. In early July, a lunch was jointly hosted by Swaythling Club Ireland and the Association to honour Joe and celebrate his incredible life.
At the lunch, Pat O Brien, the Irish Representative of Swaythling Club International, presented Joe with a letter of congratulations from the President of Ireland.
Ken Strong, President and Alex Thackaberry, Deputy Life President of the Association, jointly presented Joe with a framed certificate awarding him the title ‘Ambassador of the Century’. This award had been unanimously approved at the Annual General Meeting of the Association held in June.
Pat O Brien, Ken Strong and Alex Thackaberry each in turn spoke of Joe’s huge contribution to table tennis in Ireland and abroad.
Joe himself spoke afterwards to thank people for organising the event and of the enormous pleasure he had from his involvement in table tennis. There was hardly a dry eye in the house!
Other attendees included, Tony Martin, President of the Leinster Branch of the Association, Brian Finn, General Secretary of the Veterans Association, Kitty Thackaberry, Marie Martin, Don Mahony, Anna Kelly, Vivienne Barry, Teresa Devaney, Tommy Caffrey, Don Mahony and Joe Finnigan.
Pat O Brien also thanked Joe and Catherine Hickey for their contributions in organising the event.
The following is a combination of the many comments made during the lunch and extracts from a previous article published on Joe Veselsky
Joe was born in Bratislava in October 1918 the same month the independence of Czechoslovakia was officially proclaimed. During his youth Joe developed great sporting ambitions and poured his energy into table tennis, achieving a top 10 national ranking.
Joe also trained as a banker , where he met the love of his life, the wonderful Katarina, Kathy, with whom he had a wonderful marriage and two children, Peter and Kate. Like Joe, Kathy had a fantastic sense of humour. She was a quiet but wonderful woman, who was her husband’s greatest supporter throughout their 64-year marriage, until she passed away in 2009.
In 1938, Joe was 20 when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. Joe joined the Czech underground movement, living and operating in the Carpathian Mountains. When the war finally ended in 1945 had Joe lost both his parents and a brother at Auschwitz.
Joe returned to table tennis, and went on to have the great honour of captaining a Czech team. However, life was not easy under the new political regime and a decision was made to move the family out of Czechoslovakia; The family’s original intention was to emigrate to Australia, but difficulty in obtaining the necessary papers resulted in the family moving to Ireland in August 1949, where, with a limited knowledge of English and the business, Joe built up a successful jewellery business.
Australia’s loss was Ireland’s gain, as once the family had settled into their new lives , Joe once again returned to table tennis. The Irish Table Tennis Association was so impressed with Joe that he soon became the non-playing Captain of the Irish team. As the Irish Men’s Coach at the World Championships in Sarajevo in 1973, Joe’s personality and leadership shone, with players’ later saying that he made them feel 10 feet tall as they walked into the arena.
The Swaythling Club was founded in Stockholm in 1967, for Table Tennis Champions and Officials, who have represented their country in a World Championship. In 1972, Joe was elected President of the Swaythling Club International, a position he held until 1987 when he retired, having been responsible for bringing together representatives from the far corners of the globe and joining them together into an impressive and harmonious club.
Joe also held the post of President of the Irish Table Tennis Association for many years before eventually being elected Life President.
In 2008, Joe was made a Commander of the Slovak Order of the White Double Cross for outstanding achievement in sport and for his contribution to the development and maintenance of diplomatic relations between Slovakia and Ireland
Not content with these accolades, Joe went back to university following his wife’s death, becoming Trinity’s oldest student. Having taken extramural courses annually since 2010, in 2016 Trinity awarded Joe an honorary Master of Arts degree as part of a ceremony which also bestowed honorary degrees to both Nobel laureate Peter Higgs and author of The Ginger Man JP Donleavy.
A remarkable man, who has had a remarkable life.