Mike Smith, the chairperson of Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation, has described US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Mayo Hospice in Castlebar last Friday as a fantastic boost for everyone associated with the service.
Mr. Smith, a native of Boyle, Co. Roscommon, is in his fourth year as chairperson of Mayo Roscommon Hospice. Speaking to the Roscommon People on Tuesday, the well-known auctioneer said that the private visit by President Biden and family members was a deeply touching and emotional experience for all involved.
President Biden had been scheduled to spend about 10 minutes at the facility, but ended up staying for almost an hour, during which time he met with patients and chatted with Hospice staff and members of the board.
“A buzzword during President Biden’s visit to Ireland was ‘dignity’ and I must say that everything about his visit to the Hospice was marked by respect and dignity” Mr. Smith said.
The visit was steeped in poignancy and emotion. At the invitation of his cousin, Laurita Blewitt, Mr. Biden had turned the sod for the Hospice building back in 2016. Subsequently (in 2019), a plaque was installed at the facility in commemoration of Mr. Biden’s son, Beau, who died in 2015.
Mike Smith: “When Joe Biden turned the sod in 2016, he promised he’d return to see the completed Hospice. We could never have imagined that he would return as President of America. It was a great honour for me, as chairperson of the board, to welcome him on Friday. Oliver McGuinness and Paul Foxe, both from Roscommon, are also on the board”.
Describing Friday’s remarkable visit, Mr. Smith continued: “When President Biden arrived, he was very emotional. In Knock, he had just met Fr. Frank O’Grady, the priest who administered the last rites to Beau Biden. The president was accompanied by his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and his son, Hunter. Laurita (Blewitt), myself, and our CEO, Martina Jennings, joined them. We just seemed to form a circle. It was very emotional as they viewed the plaque dedicated to Beau”.
Mr. Smith said the US President’s visit was marked by dignity and respect. “We brought him inside, where he met his relatives, members of the Blewitt family. I also introduced him to staff and directors of the Hospice. He was very personable, and delighted to be back in Mayo. He was fantastic”.
The president insisted on meeting patients. “He found that very moving. He embraced each patient and spoke with them. It was very private… respectful and dignified”.
President Biden, who is a patron of Mayo Roscommon Hospice, spoke to board members and staff about the Hospice organisation.
Reflecting on a remarkable afternoon, Mike Smith said the visit by President Biden was a fantastic boost to everyone associated with the Hospice. Acknowledging everyone who has a role with the Hospice, the chairperson paid tribute to staff, those involved in charity shops, board members and all volunteers. He paid particular tribute to Martina Jennings, Hospice CEO, stating that she had worked “night and day” in preparation for the US president’s visit.
Finally, in a reference to Roscommon’s recent win over Mayo, the GAA enthusiast – who is the father of Roscommon stars Enda and Donie – quipped: “I’d never have thought I’d have two such great days in Castlebar in the one week!”