Joe Veselsky, 100 years old, happy birthday!

Joe Veselsky (centre) with (left) Pat O’Brien and (right) Joe Hickey (Photo: Catherine Hickey)

by Joe Hickey, Irish Table Tennis Association

Josef Veselsky, now that’s too formal, he is Joe; he was born in the same month as the independence of the country known as Czechoslovakia was officially proclaimed.

During his youth Joe developed great sporting ambitions and focused his energy towards table tennis; he achieved a top 10 national ranking.

He became a banker, married Katarina, always Kathy, who was her husband’s greatest supporter throughout their 64 year marriage, until she passed away in 2009; they had two children, Peter and Kate.

Memories of happy times but also Joe endured very sad times in his early years. In 1938, he was 20 years old when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. Joe joined the Czech underground movement, living and operating in the Carpathian Mountains; when war finally ended in 1945, Joe had Joe lost both his parents and a brother in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Following the end of World War Two, Joe captained the Czechoslovakian team but life was difficult under the political regime in existence at the time; in August 1949 with limited knowledge of the English language and by no means an entrepreneur, Joe built up a successful jewellery business.

He became the non-playing captain of the Irish team, later in 1972 the President of the Swaythling Club, a position he held until 1987. Additionally, he held the post of President of the Irish Table Tennis Association for many years before eventually being elected Life President.

Most notably 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.

Accolades a plenty but not satisfied, following his wife’s death, in 2010 he enrolled in extramural courses at Trinity College, Dublin University; in 2016 the university awarded Joe an honorary Master of Arts degree.

Earlier this year in July, the Irish Table Tennis Association held a special lunch in his honour; 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”

Happy birthday, Josef Veselsky!