WATERFORD CITY, Ireland–Jim O’Leary, who began his 50-year career at Waterford at age 15 as an apprentice cutter and later became the company’s director of design, passed away on June 8 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 69.
Despite his long history with the company and his respect for traditional design, Waterford said O’Leary felt strongly about evolving with the modern world and the need to remain fresh and contemporary. In addition to the many top-selling crystal patterns as well as exclusive collections he created, O’Leary served as a brand ambassador for Waterford Crystal and traveled around the world meeting the many fans of his designs. According to Waterford, O’Leary once described cutting a piece for actress Grace Kelly as “one of the highlights of my life.” In recent years he became better known in the United States as a Waterford ambassador of the Times Square Millennium Ball which was first used to mark the countdown on New Year’s Eve in 1999 in New York.
O’Leary was born in Waterford in May 1944. Attracted by the glamour of Waterford Crystal and the international side of its export business, O’Leary joined the company based in his hometown with ambitions to travel the world. He became an apprentice cutter for the company when he was 15 and graduated to master cutter when he was 24. He was chosen for the company’s design team in 1984 and was named design director in 1989.
Among his most significant designs are the Araglin, Carina and Castlemaine patterns; The Romance of Ireland collection; and the Star of Peace, which were the first Waterford Crystal panels to be placed on the Millennium Ball in Times Square in 1999.
Pierre de Villemejane, CEO of WWRD said, “Jim was an example for all of us. An example of dedication, excellence and passion in his work. An example of joy, kindness and compassion in his life with his family, friends and colleagues. And over the last few months as he was fighting his illness, an example of courage and humility. Jim lived Waterford Crystal and his eyes sparkled just like his designs.”
O’Leary is survived by his wife, Monica and two children.
For memorial contributions, the family has designated the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Boston, which serves as a “home away from home” for patients traveling to their outpatient treatments.