Sunday, May 22, 2011

Remembering Someone Special...

On my way to a rugby match in Toulouse last year, I got a text message from a friend in Dublin, telling me the saddest news; Gerry Ryan, a larger than life Irishman, general good egg and astonishingly talented broadcaster had died suddenly that morning.

I, lving in the hills of Southern France spent most of the following week listening to Irish radio; it was fantastic to hear so many people reminding us of what Gerry meant to them and just how much he contributed to Irish daily life.

I loved the music they played. A lot of it brought me back to a long time ago; I hadn’t heard many of the songs in years. Apart from U2 and the other biggies, it was fabulous to hear songs like Lilac Wine – one that surely sums up so many of those lost, wild but wonderful nights as we grew up?

Gerry and I were only two years apart in age and we both grew up on the north side of Dublin. While I never said more than hello, having come across him in a club or two over the years, I felt like I knew him really well. We probably both went to The Groovy Grove, but would have been in different groups, due to the age gap. Cool behaviour.

The reason I felt I knew Gerry was a really good old fashioned Dublin one - both our mothers, before they were married, worked together in Burke’s, the then famous Theatrical Costumiers in Dame Street. My mother often regaled me with mad stories, hooting with laughter as she described herself and Maureen prancing around the store, trying on the outfits, sticking their heads out from the rows of taffeta and velvet, mimicking some unfortunate large lady in the shop hiring a Valkyrie helmet and plaits.

Their ‘working’ days seemed to be full of happiness, shrieks of mirth, and very little stress. They appeared to go shopping and have their hair done quite a bit. Who says the fifties were grim? Obviously for two young ‘gals’ in the Dublin Theatre World those years were the greatest fun.

I never met Maureen, but I feel that Gerry and I were lucky, having warm people, as it seems the two of them were; mothers who saw the funnier side of life, women who laughed at the crazy bits and were clearly modern girls, while being old fashioned, cosy, keen on things like table manners at the same time.

Along with Gerry’s gloriously eccentric, oddball way of seeing the world, he possessed boundless energy, never spared himself, never needed to conserve his energies like the rest of us.

He had a capacity to draw in hundreds of thousands of people into his world and fully engage with them for three hours, five days each week and he did it for years without seeming to draw breath.

The range of stuff Gerry could cover is mind boggling for most of us. To do this every day, under public scrutiny, is something only truly remarkable people can manage. He possessed, along with a fine intellect (a quality he carried lightly) a thoroughly sound knowledge of how the world works and a keen interest in a vast range of subjects.

Then there was - possibly what made him such an attractive personality - his uncanny and deep understanding of people. He became, over the years, an expert on that most basic subject, one that affects all of us; how families work, how we live and interact with each other on a daily basis.

Couples coping with the inevitable changes occurring between them over the years, facing into the storm as children go from adorable babies to teens; Gerry’s programme covered the swings and roundabouts of life for a whole generation.

His world was one where every day seemed to be 48 hours long. He knew everyone, was invited and went everywhere, wined and dined all over the world. And all the time he never stopping talking, laughing, absorbing knowledge like a sponge and most of all, something echoed in all the tributes, making other people laugh.

Edge from U2 summed him up wonderfully in his dignified tribute, with the words: “You shone bright and you made people laugh.”

So, even though we never formally met, I say thanks to Gerry for a particular period in my life when things seemed so bad they couldn’t get any worse, and I found myself working in a small place where someone liked having a radio on all day. Listening to his programme on RTE 2 in the mornings made life seem less awful, less serious during that time. It seemed almost as if, given time and keeping my chin up, all the fun would return.

And it did, big time.

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