Tributes paid to Lady Chryss O’Reilly, who died this week

Wife of Sir Anthony O’Reilly died unexpectedly at her home in Normandy

Lady Chryss O’Reilly, the wife of Sir Anthony O’Reilly, died unexpectedly at her home in Normandy, France on Wednesday evening, aged 73.

In the preceding days she had attended the August thoroughbred horse sale at Arqana in Deauville and it is understood that Lady Chryss was preparing to return to Sir Anthony and their home in Kildare.

No funeral arrangements have yet been announced but it is expected to be kept private for family members. A memorial service for her wide circle of friends and business partners may be held at a later date.

Born in 1950 in New York, Lady Chryss was a member of the wealthy Goulandris Greek shipping family. They hailed from the Greek island of Andros and left the country for London after Germany invaded in 1941.

READ MORE

Her father John Goulandris moved to New York and married Maria Lemos, who was from another Greek shipping dynasty.

Lady Chryss’s father died when she was aged three and her brother Peter Goulandris was just a baby. She grew up in Manhattan and later studied French civilisation and art history at the Sorbonne in Paris, before returning to New York, working in the family offices, before branching out into horse breeding.

Lady Chryss first met Sir Anthony in 1989, while he was in New York seeking funding for Waterford Wedgwood, the high-end Irish crystal and pottery group. They met again in Ireland at a race meeting the following year and were married in the Bahamas in 1991.

In 1996, Lady Chryss famously paid $2.6 million at auction for a 40-carat diamond engagement ring that shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis had previously given to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Lady Chryss carved out her own career in horse breeding and racing. She was a former chair of the Irish National Stud and ran a stud farm at Castlemartin in Co Kildare, the estate where the O’Reillys lived until 12 years ago when it was sold to settle some of Sir Anthony’s debts with creditors.

Having previously been ranked as Ireland’s wealthiest person, Sir Anthony, who is 87, suffered big financial losses with the failure of Waterford Wedgwood and an expensive battle for control of Independent News & Media with Denis O’Brien, and was declared bankrupt in the Bahamas in 2015.

Lady Chryss became a director of the Ireland Funds, which Sir Anthony had cofounded in the mid-1970s, and was the first chair of the Barretstown Castle children’s charity in Ireland, having donated about a €1 million of her own funds to the project which was championed by actor Paul Newman.

Caitríona Fottrell, president and chief executive of the Ireland Funds paid tribute to her contribution to the charity.

“Chryss O’Reilly served as a longtime board director with The Ireland Funds America. Her husband, Sir Anthony O’Reilly was co-founder of The Ireland Funds with US ambassador Dan Rooney. Her broad support of culture and the arts in Ireland as well as her generous support of our Pittsburgh Dinner (where the O’Reillys were based during his time as chief executive and chairman of HJ Heinz), were just some of her many philanthropic contributions to the work of The Ireland Funds. We are forever grateful for her involvement.”

The world of horse racing also paid tribute to Lady Chryss. She worked with a number of Irish trainers including Dermot Weld, Eddie Lynam, and Kevin Prendergast, as well trainers in France and Britain.

The Curragh Racecourse said on Friday it was “saddened” to learn of her death. “Lady O’Reilly was always a welcome visitor to the Curragh both as a sponsor and an owner, enjoying many successes here with great horses including Voleuse de Couers, Chinese White, and Sovereign Debt,” it said.

Trainer Eddie Lynam said: “She was a very kind woman. I was fortunate to have trained for her for 15 years, maybe more, and she was a pleasure to train for, as she was very knowledgeable. She will be sadly missed in racing throughout the world.”

Henri Bozo of French stud Ecurie des Monceaux told the Thoroughbred Daily News: “It’s a sad day. She’s been amazing and she’s a huge loss for many people. She was such a supportive and kind person and she made our industry nicer and more human. This is a big shock but she has enjoyed the last days of her life doing what she loved.

“When we started Monceaux she was very happy to go into partnership. She was here all the time. She was a fantastic person when you had to give her bad news, and she was so happy when there was good news.

“On Saturday we won the Debutante Stakes together as breeders, and she and Patricia [Boutin] and I were in a box together in Deauville and she had a big smile on her face. It is my last memory of her and it is very special.”

Arqana’s Eric Hoyeau and Freddy Powell paid tribute to Lady Chryss in a joint statement: “It is with deep sadness that we have heard the news this morning. Lady O’Reilly was at the sales this week, greeting everyone entering the yard with a smile. Many of her friends stopped by to chat with her; we believe that her last few days were happy ones, surrounded by her cherished thoroughbreds and horse people.”

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock is Business Editor of The Irish Times

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter