While the passing of horse-racing icon Sir Peter O’Sullevan was sad, it has being more appropriate to celebrate a wonderful, long life, well lived.
Born in County Kerry in 1918, his first venture in to TV was in January 1948, commentating on three races from Kempton Park, for which he was paid 15 guineas. In 1950 he and his commentating ‘spotter’ Clive Graham were offered roles on the Daily Express, at the time the biggest selling broadsheet newspaper.
He owned and commentated on the European Champion sprinter of 1966 Be Friendly and 1974 Triumph Hurdle winner Attivo, who also won the Chester Cup and The Northumberland Plate.
Out of the commentary box he moved in the circles of racing’s elite. Scobie Breasley, Vincent O’Brien, JP McManus, Francois Doumen, The Marquessa de Moratalla, Lester Piggott, The Aga Khan, big racing families of Heads, Sangsters and the Wildensteins were all personal friends.
Brough Scott, reminisced recently that just before a visit to see Peter in hospital, following a fall at his Chelsea home, he received a phone call, with a distinctive voice on the other end. “Brough, old boy, on your way over here, could you pick up a couple of bottles of claret, please.”
To which Scott agreed, before one last request from O’Sullevan: “Can you make sure they’re the screw-top bottles, as the blessed nurses heard the corks popping last time.”
Close friend Des Lynam said his favourite memory of Peter would be for a trip back from Cognac one summer’s day. They had been invited down by Patrick Martell, whose company was sponsoring the Grand National at the time.
They had watched the various stages in the production of the brandy and then marvelled at the coopers as they made the barrels in which the brandy would mature.
Back on the Martell Lear jet home, Peter and Des were invited up to the flight deck. Afterwards Peter said: “You know, with a few lessons I reckon I could fly one of these things. But I’ll tell you this Des, I could never make one of those bloody barrels.”
Every year, for over 50 years, because of devoted wife’s Pat’s fear of flying, Peter would drive to Switzerland via the south of France.
Peter first met Lady O’Sullevan at a ball in Manchester. It was 1947 and she was working as a U.S. Army stenographer. It was, he says, love at first sight.
Nearly half a century later, when Pat was in her late 70s, Peter noticed the first signs of his wife’s Alzheimer’s. Peter devotedly nursed his wife through her seven year battle against the disease until her death in 2010.
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