Public pay tribute to the man they saw as a friend

Mon, May 3, 2010, 01:00

People came in their thousands to sign the books of condolence to the broadcaster they felt they knew

IN LITERATURE, they call it the “pathetic fallacy” – the notion of endowing nature with human emotions.

“This is how I feel right now,” said Mark Manning, a sometimes broadcaster and fan of Gerry Ryan looking out at the sheeting rain and large puddle that had gathered outside the Radio Centre in RTÉ on Saturday afternoon.

“It was raining too last night and I thought it was appropriate. He was the radio star that video couldn’t kill and now he’s gone, way too soon.”

From midday on Saturday, they queued quietly to sign the books of condolence which were placed on a table in radio reception beside a black-and-white photograph of Ryan flanked by two vases of flowers.

This was a chance for the public, his fans, to pay their tributes and they did so in their thousands.

There were gardaí in uniform, fun-runners, mothers with buggies, families, young and old and RTÉ employees.

“You’d have to have something wrong with you not to like him,” said one who added that the polarising figure on air was universally liked off air by those with whom he worked.

There was a tangible sense of grief for this intimate stranger, a confidante they had never spoken too or, as one message described him: “The man, the legend and everybody’s best friend.”

“The king has been stolen from the Irish people, our homes will never be the same again,” wrote another fan.

“We felt like we knew him, I felt he was only a phone call away if I wanted him,” said Constance Byrne-Edodo from Terenure, Dublin, who cried as she carried a copy of his autobiography. “Nobody will replace him, there is a void.”

It was a near universal sentiment among his fans that, while other broadcasters had their merits, none had that combination of irreverence and intimacy which Ryan had.

“He was the heart and soul of Ireland; he can never be replaced,” said Anastasia Leonard.

“If Alex Ferguson leaves United, there is always Mourinho, but there is not another Gerry Ryan,” said Keith Byrne. “A lot of the begrudgers will see the difference now that he has gone.”

By Saturday evening about 2,000 people had signed the book of condolence and another 1,000 came yesterday.

An emotional Hugh Baxter, who turned up with his wife Dorothy to pay respects yesterday, said his death “was one of the saddest moments” he had felt in a long time. “You kind of felt like you did know him because he shared so much of his own life with us. He kind of brought us all into that situation where you felt you were his friend.”

Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport Mary Hanafin, who signed the book of condolence on Saturday, said it was a measure of Ryan’s popularity that he could invoke such emotion in strangers.

“The fact that he was in homes all over the country every single morning means that people built up a great personal relationship with him,” she said. “People are grieving for somebody they never even met. They are sympathising for a person who was in their own home but never set foot in it.”

Head of 2FM John McMahon, hugged his tearful wife Evelyn O’Rourke, a Gerry Ryan Showreporter for eight years, after she signed the condolence book.

She presented a special tribute to Ryan on Saturday morning, in her first radio show since returning from maternity leave.

The couple regarded Ryan as a friend as well as a colleague. “Both Gerry and John are gadget freaks,” said O’Rourke. “We keep saying ‘are’, we keep talking about him in the present tense,” her husband responded.

Acknowledging that Ryan’s death is an “incalculable loss” to Irish broadcasting, McMahon will soon have to make a decision he thought he would never have to make about who will take over the show.

“People use the word a lot but he is irreplaceable. We will have to come to that discussion, but we are not there. This is about Gerry and his listeners,” he said.