Remembering John Hume, Credit Union Founder

President Bill Clinton with John Hume, Nobelist and credit union founder
The death last month of politician and civil rights leader John Lewis was a major event in the US. Another notable political figure died this week. His story is an interesting one, and it starts with a credit union.

“I never thought in terms of being a leader. I thought very simply in terms of helping people.”

The Greatest Leader You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

John Hume was an Irish politician best known for helping broker the 1998 peace deal that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He had a long career serving his country – as a founder and leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and of both European and UK Parliaments. In 1998, for his role in helping to architect the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. During his lifetime, Hume also received the Martin Luther King Award and the Gandhi Peace Prize, as well as a knighthood from Pope Benedict.

In perhaps the most revealing testament to his place in history, in 2010 Hume was voted “Ireland’s Greatest” person in a poll by Ireland’s RTE broadcast network. He was chosen over other famous citizens like revolutionary hero Michael Collins, President Mary Robinson and Bono.

Credit Union Origins

But Hume’s career in public service started out in a credit union. He co-founded the Derry Credit Union, Northern Ireland’s first credit union in 1960. Three years later Hume went on to become the president of the Irish League of Credit Unions. He was only 27. “I wasn’t interested in politics in those days, but I was interested in helping people, and I got involved in the Foundation of the Credit Union movement,” he recounted in an interview.

The credit union revolutionized life for the poor of Derry, explained Hume. “Before the arrival of the Credit Union, people who were from the poor background or a working class background couldn’t borrow from banks. Banks wouldn’t have them, and when they needed to borrow money for rearing their children and for furniture… the methodology in those days was either from loan sharks or from pawn shops…. So what the Credit Union movement did, of course, was not only help the ordinary people to have the true value of whatever their income was, but it helped local business, small business as well, because the money that would have left your city in loan charges remained and were spent.

“And today, that Credit Union — which I was involved in starting in 1960 — has 22,000 members, and has something over 40 million pounds in savings of the people.”

“… of all the things I’ve been doing, it’s the thing I’m proudest of because no movement has done more good for the people of Ireland, north and south, than the credit union movement.”

It was when he tried to finance housing in a gerrymandered district in Derry that launched Hume into the movement for civil rights in Northern Ireland. Many years of service to his country followed. But it all started in a small credit union in Derry.

During the last years of his life, Hume was afflicted with dementia. He could no longer remember his role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. But his service to his city was always remembered. He liked to wander the streets near his home; when he did, there was usually a citizen of Derry keeping watch close by, grateful for the opportunity to see him safely home.

It’s not always easy, especially during these difficult times, to remember the benefits your credit union brings to your community. You, your employees and members are all trying to manage through a difficult summer. We hope this post has made your day a little better. John Hume’s life is an example of the mark one person can make in the world. And it’s also about how important your credit union is to your community, and the many lives it impacts. John Hume’s path to creating a better Northern Ireland started with a credit union. Where will your journey lead?

At DataOceans, we help our credit union clients deliver better experiences to their members by improving their communications, to make every member interaction a positive one. We’re helping them make the world a better place, one communication at a time.