Peter Dixon’s involvement in the scout movement happened like so many things in Peter’s life - out of a sense of loyalty to his community.
The town had a long history of involvement in scouting dating back to 1929, but in 1952 after the Town Hall was badly destroyed in a fire, the result of which the scouts gear which was stored in the basement was lost. The loss of the gear caused scouting in the town to fizzle out for a time.
However, in 1953 Peter was a steward in St. Nicholas Church during the parish mission and he and other stewards began talking about sporting matters and how the movement could be started again in town.
At first Peter was reluctant to get involved but agreed to contact Scout HQ in Dublin to find out the procedures for setting up a troop in Dundalk. This was ironic, from being the most reluctant, Peter became the most enthusiastic.
The first meeting of the re-formed scouts in Dundalk was held in 1954 in the Gaelic League Hall in Seatown and after that the troop moved to the Sisters of Mercy old school in Mill Street before achieving a major objective in 1972 when they purchased their own premises in Castletown Road.
Peter was the first vice-chairman of the new Louth troop and afterwards held many positions in the Dundalk troop.
His involvement with the movement at national level started in 1958 when he joined the National Executive Board.
He held various positions at national level until he was elected Chief Scout of Ireland in 1998 and re-election to the post in 2001, where he remained till stepping down in January, 2004.
The most significant activity during his tenure as Chief Scout was inheriting and developing the informal amalgamation of the two scouting organisations, the “Catholic Boy Scouts” and the “Protestant Scout Association” to form a single association called “Scouting Ireland”. The informal arrangement was made official in 2003, much to the satisfaction of Peter.
Peter regarded the amalgamation as a highly momentous bridge-building operation to break down barriers of sectarianism that existed for a hundred years or more.
At the time Peter observed that there was no Catholic way of lighting a fire nor was there a Protestant way of tying a knot.
For Peter there were several highlights during his two terms as Chief Scout, the 75th anniversary of the movement in 2002, leading the national pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2002 when the Irish scouts were highly commended by the Duchess of Kent as they led the torchlight procession on one day, a fund raising trip to Dallas in 2003 when Peter was invited to be Grand Master of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and the visit to Áras An Uachtaráin in 2003 when Peter met President Mary McAleese.
Over his many years in the scouts Peter made many foreign trips to represent “Scouting Ireland” and attended many Jamborees.
The most memorable was in 2007 when he received the highest award in scouting, The Baden Powell Foundation Award from the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf. Another auspicious occasion for Peter came in 2004 when he was present in Windsor Castle for the Queen’s Scout Awards an event that was attended by many of the Royal family. There is a saying in scouting that “scouting is for everybody, but not everybody is for scouting”. In Peter Dixon’s case scouting was his life.
It is often said that you don¹t want to meet an Undertaker until you absolutely have to. The exception to that was Peter Dixon, Dundalk’s best known Undertaker who died on February 17th.
From boyhood the profession always interested Peter for growing up in the corner house in St. Nicholas Avenue his front window looked out on the Undertaking premises of Frank McGuill on the corner of Bridge Street.
“I was always fascinated by the ceremony of the Undertaking business” Peter once recalled and it was no surprise when he started doing odd jobs round McGuill’s yard, mainly looking after the horses which in those days were used for drawing the hearse.
He moved from McGuill’s to the established firm of James McGeough in Park Street, and while he did join his brothers, Willie, Paddy and Tommy in Hallidays Shoe factory for a short time, Peter returned to the Undertaking business when the Quinn brothers, Tommy and Michael, who had a bicycle shop at the top of Castletown Road, invited Peter to join them when they established an Undertaking business.
It was while working with Quinns that Peter realised his ambition to own and run his own Undertaking business for in 1979 after the death of Frank McGuill, he bought the business with his business partner and co-director, Niall Kehoe.
Over a life time of dedicated service, Peter handled the funeral arrangements of a countless number of local people, attending his last funeral just before Christmas when his defied family and medical opinion to leave his sick bed to attend.
He always maintained that compassion should be at the basis of an Undertakers work.
“We deal with people at perhaps the most sensitive and traumatic time in their lives, and need to be treated with utter compassion and understanding” he often said.
His organisational skills which were the hallmark of Peter’s life and which were always in Dundalk were put to good use by the Irish Association of Funeral Directors for he represented them as their President.
All of the Dundalk’s Undertakers and many more from all parts of the country acknowledged that contribution that Peter made to their profession by attending his final journey to St. Nicholas Church and St. Patrick’s cemetery.
The greatest influence on Peter Dixon’s life was his father, John.
He would constantly repeat to Peter and his brothers and sisters as they were growing up, “if you can do a good turn for somebody do it, but never do a bad turn, it will come back on you”.
It was a motto by which Peter lived his life, a life of service to his profession, the scouting movement, his Church and the wider community. When a local organisation needed a volunteer, Peter was always a candidate and inevitably when he got involved he ended up as chairman.
He served on the boards of management of two local schools, Castletown Girls School and Realt na Mara, he was Grand Master of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in town in 1999, he was involved with the De La Salle Past Pupils Union, and on many occasions, and in many ways, Peter helped out a variety of local clubs and organisations.
It was therefore hardly surprise that he was honoured by his home town with a civic reception in 1998. That service to the community extended to helping out on pilgrimages to Lourdes, a place that held a special place in Peter’s heart for it was there, over forty years ago that his beloved mother, Elizabeth, passed away.
The Catholic Church was always at the heart of Peter Dixon’s life. He served his local church, St. Nicholas’s from boyhood, and fittingly he was awarded the highest Papal award “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” by Pope John Paul II in 1994 for a lifetime of service to the Church.
Then in 2006 his work for his beloved St. Nicholas was recognised when he was awarded the Armagh Diocesan Award “The Medal of St. Patrick’s”.
During that lifetime of service Peter encountered many changes all of which he embraced with zeal and his own innate pragmatism.
He realised that there was no alternative to change and willingly did all he could to influence that process. He helped in the establishment of the Armagh Pastoral Council and when the first Pastoral Council was established in St. Patrick’s parish five years ago he was the automatic choice to as chairman.
As chairman of a diverse group of twenty Peter never stifled debate nor did he allow the clergy dictate. In his own quiet, resolute way he encouraged the process by which lay ministry was encouraged.
Behind the scenes and over the last fifty years, Peter Dixon was one of the pillars that helped the Church through difficult times and while he was never afraid to question, even suggest, he did so in the most respectable and humble manner.