The Wheel’s new CEO, it was announced on Monday, is Ivan Cooper, formerly the organisation’s director of public policy. He is widely known for his work, but he is also a history and geography buff, a keen cyclist and one of the many Dubs living in County Wicklow.
– Wikipedia fan, cosmologist and history buff Ivan Cooper has a claim to fame with Dublin’s Mansion House
His wife Orla Keegan also works in the community and voluntary sector – as head of education and bereavement in the Irish Hospice Foundation.
While The Wheel’s press statement this week laid out the challenges that people in the community and voluntary and charity sectors face, including observations from Cooper, it was light on biographical detail. With over 2,300 member organisations, people might like to know more about the new CEO; so we asked about his family and his hobbies and interests outside work.
“I’m very fortunate in that both my parents are alive – they’re Dubs and we can trace our family’s roots in Ranelagh back to the 19th century.
“I’m keen on film and cinema, and politics, economics and current affairs. I’m a big reader, especially of history and geography. I’m into cosmology and lots of things scientific and art-related and I’m a big Wikipedia fan. To be honest, I’m like a magpie with my curiosity,” he said.
“Myself and Orla like hillwalking and have been up Carrauntoohil and Mount Brandon. I play a bit of tennis too, and especially since Covid I like to keep fit. I walk and cycle,” he said. He swears by a folding bicycle he bought through the Bike To Work Scheme which he uses daily on his commute.
His longest cycle was when he and a friend once cycled from Dublin to West Cork – “as a young fella – it took us five days, camping in fields on the way, good fun.”
Today, he and Orla like to travel by campervan and they recently toured Co. Mayo, visiting Ballina, the Céide Fields and Carrowteige / Ceathrú Thaidhg. Although born in Dublin, Cooper’s first family home was in Crossmolina.
His family also have connections in County Kilkenny. “I always support Kilkenny in the hurling,” he said.
He didn’t mention supporting Mayo in the football, so it’s safe to assume he has been shouting for Dublin. He and Orla are also keen rugby fans.
Two little creatures also keep them busy, the couple’s dogs Elfie and Pixie – each with the individual personalities of indeterminate terrier crosses.
Has he any claims to fame?
“Well, my great, great grandfather on my mother’s side, John McGLoughlin, was responsible for building the ironwork portico to the Mansion House in the 1870s,” he said. Every time he walks by he feels pride and a connection to Dublin.
“And a grand uncle designed the Stag’s Head pub.” As good a reason as any to drop in.
Cooper would be handy to have by your side in a storm. His father taught him how to sail as a youngster and, during Covid, he sat the exam and qualified as a skipper.
In terms of volunteering, he served for a number of years on the board of St Catherine’s, a school in Greystones for children with special educational needs. He gives governance advice locally when asked and has previously supported Wicklow Hospice Group and Bray Partnership.
“I always wanted to work for the common good,” said Cooper. “I chose to study moral philosophy in college, so I’m very fortunate to work in the values-based community and voluntary sector, for the common good. That means everything to me.”
He will have less time for the movies, camping and volunteering in his new post. The Wheel has grown in size over the past 20 years and now has 32 staff.
“They are remarkably able and skilled people,” said Cooper. Needless to say, he looks forward to supporting them and one of the first times this year they will all come together will be for the organisation’s annual ‘Summit’ on May 23.
He is likely to address challenges for community and voluntary groups and charities at that event including low salaries and staff retention, as featured in the Winter 2022/’23 edition of this magazine. “There is a grave concern that vulnerable people in the community are going to be left without services,” he said at the time.
In previous years, the Taoiseach has been among the speakers at The Wheel’s Summit. Full event details at: https://www.wheel.ie/
Meanwhile, Deirdre Garvey who led the organisation for over 20 years from its foundation moved in January to a new job as the secretary general of the Irish Red Cross.