Where you lead, I will always follow

Karen Clince and her mum Mary Fitzpatrick are strong independent women who have made it on their own

Karen Clince and her mum Mary Fitzpatrick work together in Tigers Childcare. Photo: David Conachy
Karen Clince and her mum Mary Fitzpatrick work together in Tigers Childcare. Photo: David Conachy

As CEO and owner of a childcare company that caters for over 1,200 children, Karen Clince is a very driven and accomplished businesswoman, who attributes part of her success to coming from a line of strong women. Chief among these is her mum, Mary Fitzpatrick, who effectively raised her three children as a single mum following the breakdown of her marriage.

Mary, now 63, met Karen’s dad Ollie when she was 14 and they were married at 23. Ollie worked freelance as a sound engineer for TV stations and they pay tribute to him as “an incredibly talented man”. He and Mary had three children, Susan, Karen and Oliver, all of whom are in their 30s.

Mary worked as a wages clerk in Bachelors for several years, but Ollie didn’t want her to work after they married. “He was very keen for us to move to Australia, and I only agreed on condition that I could work while we were there as I was leaving all of my family and friends behind,” she says. Ollie acquiesced, so they packed up and emigrated when Karen was seven, and Mary got a job in a bank there.

They remained in Australia for two years, but sadly Ollie became very unwell with mental health issues, which caused the marriage to end. The family returned to Dublin and Mary and the children went to live with her parents, Marie and the late Rob, in Aughrim Street. Mary got a job in National Irish Bank as a cashier, and managed to buy a house after a few years, and she and the children moved there. She had a very successful career in banking, ultimately rising to senior banking manager and she retired after 20 years.

“Mum was amazing as she was working full-time, doing her banking degree and selling insurance door-to-door a couple of nights per week,” Karen recalls of those early years. “She had always been quite timid, but she became stronger and quite powerful. They were tough times, but we were really happy. Mum was very kind and caring, and we knew we were loved by both of our parents.”

Karen’s dad Ollie sadly passed 14 years ago from a heart attack, aged only 50. As children, her older sister Susan was a real protector to Karen, their mum recalls. Susan was a bit of a wild child and Karen was quieter, although the situation has evened out now that they’re older. Karen recalls that Mary never raised her voice, but had a certain stern look that she deployed to great effect on her errant offspring. Her “bank manager face,” Mary’s husband of five years, John, teasingly calls it. “She had to be strong,” says Karen, explaining that her mum was effectively both their mother and father.

Karen completed a diploma in business management and initially worked in marketing. She began dating her former husband, also called John, at 17 and became unexpectedly pregnant at 20 with her daughter Ella Bleu (16). Karen recalls how supportive Mary was at that time, and says that having her baby lit a spark in her and gave her the drive to do something with her life. She married John and they have another child, son Luca, 10, although the marriage has since ended.

Karen was very keen on the idea of working in childcare, and went on to do a degree in early childhood care and education. She initially worked with resource classes and then started up an after-school programme at St Vincent’s CBS in Glasnevin in 2003, which expanded to include a breakfast club and homework club.

Tigers Childcare, as it’s called, opened its first full day-care service in Swords, and having acquired Bright Horizons childcare company along the way, the company now has 14 locations here employing 153 staff. It will open its first location in the UK in September. Karen is CEO, her sister Susan is managing director and mum Mary is financial director and holds the cash reins steady. “I’m very cautious,” she laughs, adding that she greatly admires all that the bubbly Karen has achieved. The 37-year-old dynamo is very driven and keen to keep standards and quality as high as ever through this expansion phase. She is also chair of Fingal County Childcare Committee. Karen says that her family is an amazing support, and her sister Susan is her “backbone” and they’re very close. Susan is married to Alan and they have two children, Lilah (4) and Dylan (2). Their younger brother Oliver is “wonderful,” and he’s training to be a carer and has a little boy, Dean (10). Mary is very happily remarried to John and they live in Wicklow and have a little holiday home in Rosslare. She “doesn’t do negativity” and Karen says that her mum taught her that if you believe in yourself and keep going, you can do anything. They all love going on holidays together, and Mary’s beloved mum Marie comes too. At 87, she’s amazing, full of enthusiasm and knowledge and a whiz on the computer.

When it comes to her own success, Karen was keen not to be a statistic, having come from a single-parent family, becoming pregnant at 20, and getting divorced. “I want to say to other girls who are struggling that you can make it on your own,” she says. “Society tells you that you shouldn’t amount to anything, but if you put the bad things in your engine and use them to drive you forward, you can do whatever you want in life. I’m only Karen, that feckin eejit from Castleknock, but for me, it was about putting my head down and having that drive to succeed.”


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