Valerie Earley – A Tribute



Valerie was more than a colleague to all of us. She was a friend, a confidant, a bundle of mischief wrapped up in an orderly, precise, and immaculate package. As our membership manager, Valerie had contact with all members of VAI over a very long period of time. Many members have told us about the small notes that Valerie slipped in with their membership cards asking after family or sending best wishes. It was these personal touches that show the care that Valerie had for everyone that she came in contact with.

The precise orderly and considered manner in which she managed our membership showed her overwhelming love of order, but this was only part of the Valerie that we knew.  Perhaps in the last few months of her illness we became even more aware of the calm love of life that Valerie embraced. Tales of her trips away for weekends always included laughter, and indeed, our own staff get-togethers included more than their fair share of Valerie stories in the days after.  She had a joy for living that is given to few. Her calm stories of her various treatments were never told with any desire for sympathy. Instead they were matter of fact, and came with suggestions that we could all do with some of her mindfulness therapy.

I have shed many tears since Valerie’s death. Looking back, these tears were for the loss of a friend, and I’m not sure that Valerie would have tolerated them. Now the tears are replaced with warm memories as I can hear her tell us all to continue being strong.

Noel Kelly, CEO Visual Artists Ireland (VAI).


The first time I met Valerie was in the old offices of the, then, Sculptors’ Society of Ireland up the dreaded four flights of stairs of 119 Capel Street. Valerie was interested in getting back to work having taken time off to look after her young daughter Jenny. She started working with us in the SSI in a general admin capacity, but her amazing memory and her attention to detail soon became evident. It was this remarkable ability that made her the very backbone of the SSI / VAI that she was to become.

But Valerie will not only be missed and remembered for her work as the membership manager of the organisation, but also for her lack of pretension in what often considers itself a rarefied world. Her infectious laugh and warmth extended beyond the office to the art opening, to many the ‘after-party’! And she was a great friend, discreet, wise and full of humanity.

Valerie was a true free spirit, who lived in a beautiful old house with Jenny, her brother Derek, sister-in-law Regina, niece Holly and their dogs, in an enviably loving and bohemian household. Meeting Dermot a few years ago and knowing that Jenny is due her own baby this Spring, made her even happier still.

Aisling Prior. Sculptors Society of Ireland (SSI) Director 1991 – 1997.


When I graduated from art school in 1994, I found myself wondering how to go forward, where to be. I joined the Sculptors Society of Ireland and signed up with a friend to attend the AGM-conference-weekend away at the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, we made our way with a degree of nervousness and a certain trepidation, to registration. It was here that I first encountered Valerie, holding court, the master of ceremonies welcoming one and all to the gathering. She, with her welcoming smile and her bright eyes, was an expression of warmth and friendliness. With a kind efficiency she dealt with our formalities and officially welcomed us to the event, but more than that, through the warmth of her personality she had exorcised my anxieties, my nervousness, my shyness. It was a memorable weekend and the beginning of my long acquaintance with Valerie.

It’s hard to think of people in the past tense… she was… they were… you never expect to find yourself trying to find words to describe what has largely gone without description or even analysis. Valerie was great… she was… always there, reliable… we loved her. Why was that? I have no poetic words within me to describe why Valerie was so great, why she shone so brightly, why she was loved by so many. I never thought to consider that, she was always here, bright and friendly, funny, welcoming and warm… always the same, lifting a little of the weight off your shoulders just by being herself.

And so here we are. Remembering Valerie. I could, as the Chairman of the board of VAI, write about the important role Valerie has played in the organization over two decades, how in the best of times and the worst of times, she has been at the core of the organization, remaining constant while all has changed around her. I could talk about her loyalty and support for her colleagues. All of these things are true, but if you met Valerie you would know that they would be true, you would know that she could not have been any other way. I will remember the smile in Valerie’s eyes, the sparkle in her smile, the embrace of her presence and the humour in her words. I will miss Valerie, but not with sadness… she wouldn’t stand for that.

Liam Sharkey. VAI Chairman.


I first met Valerie when I began a Folkatronica Digital Residency in 2003 in the VAI Offices, when they were located near the Fruit Market off Capel Street. Perhaps met is not right, it was the first time I saw her. Each time I visited the offices I would disappear in to a small darkened editing suite at the end of a long corridor, the day would quickly slip by and I would keep largely to myself. On certain days I would notice another person in the office. She was not there all the time but when she was you knew there was a different sense of things: an air of order, industry and more than a touch of mischief.

When I subsequently worked as a VAI Board Member I found all these traits to be true.  Valerie’s no nonsense, common-sensical manner, her enthusiasm and sense of humour would keep everything ticking over, everything quietly in its place.

Valerie will be so missed by her family, by everyone who knew her and by all her colleagues at VAI. She was so much a part of everyone’s experience of VAI.

When I type her name I notice a sequence of letters in it VAI. Valerie was such a central part of Visual Artists Ireland, and now I see that she always will be.

Brian Fay. VAI board member.


I guess we take our colleagues for granted and it’s so true that we only know what we’ve lost and how we’ve been touch by someone, when they are gone. Valerie was so courageous all through her illness that I think we fooled ourselves that she would come through. Just as Val managed the membership records she was also the keeper of all SSI legends, I will fondly remember her stories, love of cats, salt of the earth humour and weak milky tea. She had a unique ability to be both meticulousness and laid back and I will always admire her no bullshit attitude. Our Val was a person who knew how to have a good time, lived life on her own terms and knew what was truly important in life. After my Dad passed away in 2011 Valerie would often ask how my Mam was doing, something that will always remind me of her caring empathy toward us all. I will miss her immensely; she was a very special soul.

Monica Flynn. VAI Professional Development Officer.


I am writing this on a rainy Thursday morning, sitting at my desk in the VAI office – all around me are my VAI friends and colleagues. Just like me they are missing our dear Valerie. It is a really sad time here at VAI, but we are not sombre. Dermot, Valerie’s partner reminded us in his profoundly moving and heartfelt words of tribute at the funeral, that Valerie’s priorities in life were “to be surrounded by good people and have a great laugh”. Here at VAI we can all regard ourselves as privileged to be counted, for some of the time at least, as good people in Valerie’s estimation. And we’ve all certainly had some great laughs with Valerie. Dermot also emphasised that up until the end, in the dark days of her cancer, that they had a blast. So in honour of Valerie, we are above all mindful to keep the good times rolling.

As someone who has had a recent brush with cancer; Valerie was inspirational. On the precious occasions I was lucky enough to have time with Valerie to share our experiences, I was reassured that overall positivity is the way to go, for the benefit of not only of myself, but that of my friends and family. It is Valerie’s joyous spirit that is helping us all through our grief at her passing. Valerie’s spirit, I recommend it to all.

Valerie and myself started work at The Sculptors Society of Ireland (the previous incarnation of the VAI) within weeks of one another; we were hired by the then director Aisling Prior – some (gulp) 19 years ago. With Aisling found ourselves working for a tightly knit organisation, that was equally nurturing during office hours and party hours. We were introduced to the wonderful world of exhibition openings and other forms of launches and shin digs.

Work-life isn’t life, even in the art world, but it must be said that Valerie was excellent at her job. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of members of the VAI can attest to this. But I also mean to say Valerie was excellent in her approach to this regrettable dreary human business of having to have some kind of job; she managed an enviable work-life balance; with the scales tipped emphatically towards life.

Valerie was someone who had things worked out. Valerie had life down.

Love to you Valerie – and to Dermot, Jenny, Regina, Derek and all of us you made life better for.

 Jason Oakley. VAI Publications Manager.


I was deeply saddened and shocked to hear of the death of our dear friend and colleague Valerie Earley who was such a special and sincere woman. Valerie was one of those people you meet in your life that you’ll never forget; she walked down a little bit of the road with everyone. Everyone felt that they knew Valerie and that she knew them. She had a way of making a real and genuine connection with everyone she met. She made us all feel welcome.

Even if you she had not seen you in a long time, Valerie remembered your stories and empathised, laughed and joked like a long lost friend.

I am truly sorry to have lost such a friend. Rest in peace dear Valerie.

Joyce Duffy.


I knew Valerie for many years both through knowing her brother Derek and her sister-in-law Regina, and also through a mutual interest in the theatre company Parnassus Arts Group, I as a member and Valerie an enthusiastic supporter. In more recent years, as I renewed my subscription as a member of Visual Arts Ireland, and Valerie working with VAI, would always insert a lovely handwritten note wishing me all the best for the coming year, asking after my loved one’s etc…

How the years have flown by.

Rest in peace Valerie, You’ll be missed.

Aidan Butler.


From the very first time I met you at the Visual Artist’s Ireland office I knew that here was a kind, humane, friend, in the true sense of the meaning of that word. We had spoken several times by phone and I had already experienced your happy, positive, inclusive nature.

When I met you in person, whether at the VAI office or at our annual AGM, or out socially, I was touched by the way you always made direct eye contact and spoke totally from the heart, no matter what the topic, or the problem, personal or professional, big or small, giving comfort and advice, this made one feel that some-one was interested and looking out for you.

I felt that here is a mate, who looks out for members on an individual level, making things easy for us in our busy and competitive lives.

It is because of this, that I feel such empathy for your family, colleagues and close friends, people who were in touch with you on a daily basis, and now face each day with the loss of your presence, a truly warm, compassionate, caring, good humoured, funny and totally honest human being.

Love and gratitude to you Valerie,

Margaret Tuffy.


There were lots of things I wanted to say about Valerie, like when you would meet her it didn’t matter how long it was since you had met – it was still the same immediate openness and chat the sense that you were talking and laughing and that it was real. No pretence or when the stubs came back from the VAI with little well wishes; or the time the stub said she had cancer and was dealing with it, straight up no self-pity or sentiment. Or how striking she looked with amazing eyes and always seemed to be lively and energetic and was hard to pin what age she was because she had an energy about her that was ageless or simply to say she was a lovely person and is sadly missed

Patricia McKenna. Former SSI Board Member.


The day after receiving the sad news of the passing of Valerie I was cathartically cleaning out my car when I came across an envelope in the glove compartment.  It had inside it my VAI Membership cards signed by her. She had added a note asking for myself, Eamon and “little Reuben” indicating her caring and interest in others.  She, at the time must have known of her own illness but she still enquired about me and my family life without indulging in her own story.

The cards held no photograph and were not stuck together. Years of knowing the eccentricities of artists meant that her knowing that I wouldn’t “get around” to sending her my photo to enable my membership cards to be processed in-house, meant that she sent me the component parts to DIY it myself. This knowing is something special.  It takes years to understand and accept. No doubt Valerie had many the exacerbated moment of not knowing why artists can’t just ‘do’ as they are supposed to. But she learned over a long and dedicated time working in the Sculptors Society of Ireland, which became The Visual Artists Ireland to know the foibles of artists like myself.

This familiar knowing in an organization with over 3,500 registered artists is amazing.  It is people like Valerie who make you feel more than just an anonymous name with a number.

I will fondly remember her high spirits during an amazing time spent in Paris when I was exhibiting there. She dared me to dance with Eamon in a nightclub dedicated to what could only be described as the best exhibit of swing-dancing I have ever seen.  Always one “to try anything once” the dare was acted upon. My best efforts, though with a certain level of humiliation, dancing amongst the “professionals” added to the groups amusement but I will always remember Valerie’s infectious laugh at the spectacle. Valerie you are sadly missed, but not forgotten.

Pauline O’Connell. Former SSI board member.


I will always have this memory of the support and friendship given to me by Valerie during my time as Chairman of the Artists Association of Ireland whilst I was also on the board of the Sculptors Society of Ireland. She understood instinctively the dilemma that a working artist has when sitting at meetings that go on for hours. After such meetings she would have at hand a coffee and a get a grip on life chat.

In 1997 while in conversation with Valerie about Sculpture In Context, which that year was to be held at the Conrad Hotel.  She suggested that I make a proposal.  A painter entering a sculpture exhibition – what a thought!  The gauntlet was down and so I made a piece entitled “Jack Daniels drank a bottle of his own hooch and did a magical mystery tour of Ireland”  (always one for long titles – even now!)  These twelve painted drunken portraits were painted onto actual Jack Daniels beer mats, mounted under glass were accepted. At the opening Valerie came to me enquiring about buying one. But they were in a set of twelve and her apprehension was to see if she could split up the set. She was nervous and excited about buying one and I was delighted it was going to a good home. I will always remember her smile and humour, she always had laughing eyes.

Eamon Colman. Former SSI board member.


We first met Valerie when we joined the staff at the Sculptors’ Society of Ireland in 1995. Valerie was a fantastic person to work with, always happy, joyful and full of positive energy. She really had it cracked how to enjoy life. Valerie loved her job at the SSI and took huge pride in it. She knew the artists well, most on first name terms, and took great care in managing their affairs as members in the days before computerisation.  For newbie’s coming in, Valerie was really welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable – we learned a lot from her. Very quickly and easily, we became good friends.

Whenever we talk now of Valerie we smile, half-remembering some late nights in Keating’s or Nealon’s  after some exhibition opening or other, and Valerie’s mischievous sense of humour that would have us rolling around in laughter. We remember a truly free spirit, easy-going, unflappable, most often to be seen wearing her favourite denims and docs.

Valerie often talked of her home life and her family, especially her daughter Jenny – of whom she was bursting with pride. Valerie’s passing is a terrible loss for her family and for the VAI. She really is irreplaceable. And we can only imagine, that wherever she is now, she is enjoying herself. We’ll miss you Valerie.

Carissa Farrell & Winnie Ryan.


I worked with Valerie at Visual Artists Ireland for just over a year and a half and I find it incredibly difficult to believe that someone who was so full of energy and life and fun is gone. Val was one of those people who, when you met her, instantly put you at your ease. She was kind and generous, always ready to share funny stories, ask you about your weekend, listen to your problems and offer advice and support. She loved her cats, her daughter Jenny and her partner Dermot very much, and it was easy to see that she was a person who gave a lot of love to the people in her life and who was loved very much in return. I will always remember her laugh, or laughs, because she had a fantastic range of laughs that were impressively many and varied, from mischievous cackle to uncontrollable belly-laugh. The common feature among these various laughs was that they were all contagious – when Val laughed you couldn’t help joining in. Valerie was a huge part of Visual Artists Ireland from the very beginning, valued not only as a colleague but also as a friend, and I know she will be missed terribly by all VAI staff, past and present. 

Sabina McMahon.


I met Valerie when I started working in the SSI back in 1994. It hard to believe that’s nearly 20 years ago, it’s a long time, but Valerie’s joyful personality left an impression in my memory that the years have done little to dull. Valerie was just such great crack, and always full of laughter. We had many, many fun filled nights out together, going to openings all over town. I only worked in the SSI for a year, but I was in touch with Val for many years after I left. Over time we drifted apart, but whenever I met a mutual friend, or was somewhere that reminded me of her, I could feel a smile come across my face thinking of her, and I would resolve to get back in touch and meet up for a chat, as I knew jollity would be guaranteed. Unfortunately though I never did get to meet Val in recent years, and didn’t even know she wasn’t well. However I am very grateful that Dara, a mutual friend, let me know about her funeral, so I was able to go along, and say goodbye to my old mate, and hear Dermot’s wonderful eulogy. Goodbye again Val, I’ll miss you.

John O’Malley.


I just wanted to say that I am really glad I had the pleasure of working with Valerie. We had great adventures together especially that Swing club in Paris – swing dancing that is. Quoting the words of another great lady, Nina Simone:

“Makes no difference if it’s sweet or hot,

Give that rhythm everything you’ve got,

Don’t mean a thing, all you gotta do is swing.”

Valerie definitely gave it everything. Loved and missed.

 Janine Davidson.


I miss Valerie dearly. She became both a colleague and my good friend on the very first day I started working at Visual Artists Ireland.  She made me feel warmly welcome and any ‘first day’ apprehensions or anxieties dissipated fairly quickly. I instantly loved her straightforward, practical, easy going, no bullshit and unbelievably positive attitude, which she applied to both work and life in general.

Valerie loved going travelling or ‘going on adventures’ as she use to called it. After every weekend away – and I am sure she covered most of the country during her time  – Valerie would regale me with tales of book fairs, festivals, fabulous friends, or eccentric cat ladies who inevitably ran whatever accommodation she stayed in. Valerie loved cats – a ridiculous amount. Being a dog lover myself I used to think she was completely barmy; but over the years and via her stories, her infectious adoration of the feline kind rubbed off on me a little bit. And that was Valerie; her sincerity, positivity and passion for the things and people that she loved, along with her great laugh, were contagious.

I loved listening to her stories. They were always characterized by friends, family, her partner Dermot, fun, great conversations, good food and wine and an ever-present sense of contentment and love of life. I am thankful and grateful that over the years I had the pleasure of being part of these stories many times over at various exhibition openings, VAI events, drinks after work or whatever.

With Valerie, we were a great VAI team. Meticulous in her work and so very attentive to detail, Valerie’s knowledge, support and reliability meant that we undertook even the most challenging of projects easily. We had some great times both in and out of the office. I will never forget her.

Niamh Looney. VAI Information and Communications Officer.


It was an honour to work with Valerie in Visual Artists Ireland.  The commitment and the professionalism she gave to her work were evident. The bravery with which she faced her illness was inspirational. Her energy and liveliness is greatly missed, it is not the same without her.

Bernadette Beecher. VAI Office Manager.


What a great person to meet on your first day in a new job. A welcome smile and a few reassuring words, Valerie was just the tonic for an apprehensive newbie starting out in the Sculptors Society. Over the years I would see that ability to put people at ease time and time again. A genuine interest in people (and a seriously impressive memory for names) makes for a great membership manager. It amazed me just how many of our members Valerie knew personally. Conversely I think most members felt they knew Valerie, even if they hadn’t actually met her.  She was so precise and meticulous in her work (her card index is a work of art!) yet she managed to make the professional feel absolutely personal. A really rare gift. I miss Valerie’s energy, her positivity and her contagious desire to just have a laugh and never be really serious. I take comfort that wherever she is; she’s probably got a glass of wine in one hand (and a cat in the other) and is having a bloody good laugh.

Alex Davis. VAI Advocacy Officer / IVARO services.


Valerie was a superb human being, kind, calm, patient and fun loving. She is a person once met, could never be forgotten, but then she was a cat lover!  May she sail on waves of love, dive into seas of dreams and rest lightly till all are with her again.

 Pauline Beades.


I was so sad to hear of the passing of Valerie.  I have lovely memories of her from the SSI days; she was always smiling and so upbeat. My deepest condolences to you and her family during this difficult time. I was so saddened to hear of the passing of Valerie. My deepest sympathies to her family and the VAI team.

Suzanne Geraghty.


I worked at VAI for a year after finishing art college in 2002 / 2003 and loved working with Valerie. She was one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve met and always so much fun.

 Margot Kenny.


I was Director at the Sculptors Society of Ireland back in 2001 – 2002 and found her to be a great team member: solid, reliable and always good-humoured. I know her long-standing presence in your organisation will very much be missed.

Paula Campbell. Former SSI Director.


It is with real sadness that I read about the death of Valerie Earley. I have been a member of VAI for a long time and remember her professionalism, kindness and fun whenever I had questions to be answered. I know that all of you must be so sad and I just want to mark her passing by contacting you all to say how much she was appreciated by me and I am sure by countless others of us faceless ones out there. Thank you VAI for caring enough to let us know in such a gentle and sensitive way.

Christabel Atkins.


Valerie was an institution in her own right – I remember her so well from my time on the SSI board at the beginning of the 1990s. She will be sadly missed.

Amanda Ralph. Former SSI board member.


We have lost someone very special in the arts. She was always so positive, wonderful in her being; and fun for sure.

Therry Rudin. Former VAI chairperson and board member.


 I remember working with her a number of years ago in the early days of the Sculptors Society of Ireland. It was a pleasure to have known her.

Leo Higgins. Director Cast Foundry.


Valerie was a true, genuine and kind friend. She bore her pain with great dignity. Throughout it all she had great empathy for others. Her strength was outstanding. It is very difficult to speak of her in the past, as she is with me in spirit everyday. She was and continues to be an inspiration to me. I look at the world differently now. I miss her smile and laughter. It was a great pleasure to have known her.

Marian Baruch.

I didn’t know Valerie personally but dealt with her via email and over the phone and she was always helpful, courteous and a pleasure to do business with.

Caroline Louise Smyth.


I remember Valerie always having a smile, always having something to say to visitors coming into the office and always ready to have a laugh. She treated everyone the same and she has left her mark on us all.

Brian Connolly. Former SSI board member.


In all my dealings with Valerie she was always helpful, courteous and friendly. People of her type are few and far between; she will be missed.

Noel Molloy.


Valerie was gentle and thorough and consistent. Over the course of time you get to know the genuine people in the Irish art world and she most definitely was really the most professional of all I dealt with. I mean this with all of my heart.

Paula Pohli.


Please accept our deepest condolences for the loss of your warm and vivacious colleague and friend Valerie. We are sure that she will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her. May her warm spirit live on in the hearts of all who she touched.

Mark Cullen & Gavin Murphy.


Visual Artists Ireland would also like to thank the following who also expressed their sympathy: Clare Doyle, Sally Timmons, Nora Duffy, John Maguire, Eoin MacLochlainn, Suin Hanrahan, Padraic McQuaid, Maeve Mulrennan, Lisa Fingleton, Annette Hennessy, Victoria Durrer, David Turner, Backwater Artists, Geraldine Folan, Anne Harkin-Peterson, Mo McDevitt, Anne Rigney, Betty Newman Maguire, Eilis O’Baoill, Lorraine Wall, Rina Whyte, Mary Clarke, Sarah Walker, Louise Walsh, Joanne McCarthy.