Whether you knew Laurie as Laurence, Dada, or just that man sat outside his house with a fag and a massive mug of tea, you’ll know that he was one of life’s true characters.
Everyone who met Laurie (unless you’d met him when he was throwing you out of a pub) remembers his quick humour, ability to talk to anyone and his generosity – a trait he valued above all others.
He was also well-known for the selfless way he helped and supported others through difficult times.
Laurie felt an affinity with people with struggles, because he’d lived and triumphed over so many of his own.
The man truly had nine lives – overcoming a drink problem, the traumatic death of his first wife at a young age, a serious illness 25 years ago that saw him on a life support machine and being shot at in an armed robbery
An Irish Rebel
One of the McCahill clan of seven siblings, Laurie’s position in the household was that of Irish rebel. At home, John, Jimmy, Kevin and Laurie shared one bedroom with four bunk beds in the room. The number of times he would creep in late at night, and get into trouble with his mum and dad were too numerous to count. He would have been out with mates chatting to girls.
His defence was always that he had been at Auntie Maggie's house. Laurie's mum would phone Auntie Maggie to check - and she would always back him up with an alibi. Most times he would still get a good beating - but that never stopped him.
When he was a teenager he played football as a goalkeeper. He was a bit short for that position, but he more than made up for that with his speed of thought and bravery in diving at lunging feet to get the ball.
The Basil Fawlty of Knightsbridge
Laurie was always a hardworker and was still working as a consultant for a group of Catholic clubs beyond his cancer diagnosis in February this year. Before his diagnosis, we always joked that we’d work him until he dropped. But he endured the six-hour journey to and from his various clubs each week to make sure he could provide for his beloved family and wife Jacinta – a trait that started early in his life.
As a teenager he played in his brother Jimmy's band on Friday and Saturday nights, and on Saturday mornings he was up early to set up the market stalls in all weathers. He worked all day, and then helped pack up at the end of the day. The money he earned went into the coffers to help support the rest of the family.
After a near-brush with becoming a priest, Laurie became an excellent teacher and a top-class musician. He played all of the top Irish halls in London, ran a music shop, recorded many albums and was in a very select group of musicians who have played the Royal Albert Hall.
But it’s his days as London’s angriest and funniest pub landlord that many will remember him for, mainly because Laurie had a somewhat unique approach to customer service.
Generosity was Laurie’s highest value – so much so he abhorred meanness when he saw it in others. The majority of people thrown out of his pubs were those who’d just dared ask for an orange juice to share between four – or on one memorable occasion, an unfortunate man who’d unwisely brought his own loaf of bread and started making sandwiches.
His lack of patience with meanness meant he was easy to play tricks on. His brother Kevin remembers walking into his pub in Knightsbridge. He writes: “One evening I went there and Laurie was sitting on a bar stool facing the bar, so he did not see me coming in. I walked up behind him and said, 'Can I have a glass of water please?' The pub went silent - the locals knew what was coming. He span round with his face growling, ready to explode and tell me where to go. Then he realised it was me and laughed.”
Of all his qualities, it is the way Laurie dealt with his alcohol problem that he was most admired for. To decide not to drink, and to be able to stick to that pledge even while working as a pub landlord surrounded by temptation must have taken tremendous amounts of courage.
He often said that he found group gatherings where people were getting drunk very difficult - because they were getting sillier while he was still cold stone sober, sitting there with his mug of tea. Painful though that may have been to him, he still went to these functions.
It is Laurie's relationship to his wife Jacinta that demonstrates his loyal and loving side. Together for almost 50 years and married for 47 of those, they were one of a unique breed of couples, seemingly able to jump through the hoops of life together – enjoying the highs and lows, whilst growing stronger at every turn.
Laurie was one of Jacinta's high school teachers at Cardinal Wiseman in Greenford where he taught for 20 years (they assure us there was nothing untoward here...) and their romance blossomed soon after she left school. They married in 1970 (she was just 20) and had their first son, Declan, a year later. Their youngest, Laurence, arrived a couple of years after that.
Romantic in his own way, Laurie adored Jacinta, as highlighted by his parting gift to her. Always conscious that he was ten years older, it was Laurie who instigated the couple's final adventure - a move to the coast - ensuring she was close to her sons and grandchildren should anything happen to him. The couple made more friends in Brighton in four years than many make in a lifetime. In fact, it's almost as if Laurie had it all planned out, as he went out of his way to make sure Jacinta was embedded in the local community and had a ready-made support system around her.
Laurie loved his final years living by the sea close to his loved ones. Every day he would pinch himself whilst sitting outside the front of their house and admiring the sea view. He had finally found peace and contentment and enjoyed every moment.
Laurie was a true Christian in the very best sense of the word. He had a deep faith that didn’t need to be shouted about, but he lived Christian values in the selfless way he always put others before himself.
Laurie told his brother Kevin that he’d put his illness in God's hands and God would decide what happened - and he was at peace with that. As Kevin writes, “I don't think that any of us wanted him to have a long and painful illness, and so I like to think that God saved him from that.”
With thanks to Kevin McCahill