Thomas O’Malley, headmaster, former Hibernian FC Chairman

Born: April 7, 1937;

Died: 28 August, 2020.

TOM O’Malley, who has died at the age of 83 following a lengthy illness, was a proud Leither, who got to partially live the dream. He never pulled on the famous green shirt with white sleeves, but he did get to be chairman of Hibernian FC, a real case of a fan having his say in a football club’s corridors of power.

The O’Malleys were Hibs through and through; one of Tom’s great-grandfathers was a member of the Catholic Men’s Society from which the club grew, and there were two constants in Tom’s life, the Roman Catholic Church and Hibernian. He followed the club through thick and thin, after his father first took him to Easter Road in 1946.

His timing could not have been better, that was the year Gordon Smith, Eddie Turnbull, Lawrie Reilly and Willie Ormond all broke through into the Hibs team. They would later be joined by Bobby Johnstone to form the Famous Five. The three Scottish Championships of his youth, in 1948, 1951 and 1952, cemented his love of the club. This made the thin later years and relegation tolerable.

He gloried in and was delighted to get to know the immortals: Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond, Joe Baker, Pat Stanton, Franck Sauzee. He suffered through the low points and, although by then frail following a major stroke, he rejoiced on that spring afternoon in 2016 when, after 114 years, the sun shone on Leith again, Hibs dramatically defeating Rangers 3-2 to win the Scottish Cup (pictured).

As his son Tim remembered: “Dad said in his early days as a fan that he thought success would be endless, that league titles and cups won would be the norm. He later learned differently, but the memories of the good days kept him going through the bad.”

An only child, Tom O’Malley attended St Mary’s RC Primary, then Holy Cross Academy, where he was Head Boy. He then crossed the capital to Edinburgh University, where he obtained a first-class honours degree in chemistry; he then went to Moray House before starting his teaching career, back at Holy Cross.

He then taught at St Mary’s, Bathgate, before, in 1967, he decided to emigrate, to Canada, where he taught in a school in Toronto. His father’s death in 1969 brought the O’Malleys back to Scotland; he became Head of Science at St Anthony’s, Lochend, which then became Holyrood High School, where he was appointed as Assistant Head Teacher.

In 1974 he won the headship at St David’s, in Dalkeith; at 37 he was the youngest headteacher in Scotland. He would spend the rest of his teaching career there, just under a quarter of a century.

He was a member of the Munn and Dunning advisory committee and a well-regarded spokesman for Roman Catholic schools. This work, along with his stewardship of St David’s, saw him eventually made OBE for his services to education.

Towards the end of his headship at St David’s a young boy arrived who would become the school’s most famous former pupil. Tom, although disappointed that the boy would chose Manchester United ahead of Hibs, took great delight in following the career of future Scotland captain Darren Fletcher.

In the meantime Tom continued to follow Hibernian, home and away. Although it was mainly a businessman’s club, he joined the Hibernian 50 Club, rising to become its chairman. Then, in 1990, when Wallace Mercer launched his ill-fated bid to merge Hearts and Hibs, Tom was one of the founders of Hands Off Hibs, the fans’ movement which led the fight against Mercer. Indeed, he was one of the men who approached his childhood friend, Sir Tom Farmer, to get his backing. Sir Tom made it clear he could not give the necessary time to running Hibs, so Tom O’Malley found himself on the board of the club he had supported all his life.

When Lex Gold stood down in the wake of relegation in 1998, Tom O’Malley was elected Chairman, successfully quelling terracing unrest, once the bulk of the fans realised they had one of their own at the top. He steered the club through the First Division Championship-winning season of 1998-99; under the managership of Alex McLeish, the title was won at a canter.

Having decided to retire from teaching, he felt Hibs being promoted was a good time to step down from the board. He was also delighted at the signing of Franck Sauzee at this time. He ranked “Le God” alongside the Famous Five, Baker and Stanton in his pantheon of Hibs Heroes.

With his long teaching career over, he and wife Maureen, who he had married in 1961, retired to Gullane, where he golfed with a passion. Whenever Maureen could drag him off the course, he enjoyed hill walking until, 10 years ago, he suffered a massive stroke that left him wheelchair-bound and unable to speak.

Tom O’Malley was a devoted teacher, a devout Roman Catholic and a committed family man. The Church, Hibs and his family were the three pillars of his life. In all three, he made a difference. He was a lifelong friend and school contemporary of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, whose fall from grace affected him deeply. Both had been educated at Holy Cross, before going on to Edinburgh University to read chemistry.

Tom O’Malley is survived by Maureen, daughters Pauline and Louise and son Tim, plus his six grand-children.