Rosemary Gibson


It was with a sense of great shock and sadness that I heard of the recent death of Rosemary Gibson, or "Rosy Gibb" to her many friends. It seems incredible that someone so vital, with such an appetite for life, such an innate sense of fun and warmth, should be taken from us at the tragically early age of 54.

I knew her for over 30 years and it was indeed a privilege to be included in the circle of friends surrounding Rosy, Andrew and their family. I first came across her in the 1960s in Trinity, where she was already a legend. Golden-haired, and effervescent with contralto laughter, she gambolled about college like a well-bred, playful, Pekinese puppy. She loved animals and they responded to her affection. But she was practical too and not just sentimental.

She hit the headlines on one occasion, having hopped off the motorbicycle which she usually bestrode like a friendly Amazon and jumped into the Liffey to rescue a drowning dog. Never conventional, she delighted in challenging the stuffier aspects of bourgeois etiquette. She appreciated a good cigar (an unusual habit for "young ladies" in the Ireland of that time) and her dress sense was witty and flamboyant. I remember her going to the Provost's garden party in those flower-power days on the arm of her handsome and blazered young escort, Andrew Gibb, whom she was later to marry, attired for the occasion in a plastic bag with holes cut for the arms and head to emerge. Needless to say, she was the fashion sensation of the event.

After her graduation and marriage, Rosy lived for some time in the Old Mill House at Brackenstown, Swords. This was an idyllic setting, close to the city but completely rustic. Here Rosy and her family entertained with a unique generosity and verve. Open house and open heart were the order of the day and it seemed nothing to Rosy and Andrew to throw an instant party for 100 guests.

There was no conflict, however, between Rosy's enjoyment of life and its good things and her underlying seriousness and decency. At Brackenstown she undertook a literacy project for some travelling children in the locality. I remember her pleasure and satisfaction when, having schooled some of these young people for weeks on end, they made their appearance singing Christmas Carols to party guests from the minstrel's gallery. Later, in London, she embarked on a career as a social worker and started a literacy programme for London's gypsies, becoming the first officially designated travellers' teacher with the Inner London Education Authority.

She also loved the arts and wrote a distinguished thesis on the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh under the generous and thoughtful supervision of Professor Brendan Kennelly at Trinity. All these elements came together in the final blossoming of what seemed at first an unusual career but one which, when you thought of it, seemed designed for Rosy and which she made her own, developing a unique style as one of Europe's most celebrated and sophisticated female clowns. She became Time Out street magician of the year, was admitted to the Magic Circle and last September was awarded the Craig Trophy from the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

It is hard to believe that she is gone, but she has left her many friends with a rich legacy of memories. I recall in particular a Christmas party at St David's Castle in Naas, the home of her gentle-voiced hypnotist father, Dr Jack Gibson, some 23 years ago. It was the first Christmas my partner, Ezra, had ever spent in Ireland and we were not universally welcomed as a couple in those more conventionally minded days, but to Rosy and Andrew we were just two people who loved each other - and did they make us welcome! I have a vivid memory of blazing fires, candles everywhere and quite literally a groaning board of seasonal delicacies.

She was a great original, stylish rather than elegant, delighting in puncturing pomposity but with no streak of cruelty in her own special brand of wit. She was also all of a piece, the diverse elements of her life fitting together harmoniously and expressing her fundamental goodness. In her company we got a glimpse of life as it could be, seen through her uniquely "Rosy-tinted spectacles". Some of the colour of life has faded with her passing. Ezra joins me in sending your love and sympathy to her family and many friends.