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Paddy Wright: Grandfather, Gossip, GAA Man

Posted on: January 11th, 2008

PADDY Wright’s death at Christmas hit hard. I was lucky to know him reasonably well in recent years. Our regular encounters were born out of conflict.

Ten years ago Paddy decided to sue me for a piece of common-or-garden defamation printed about him in this column. Solicitors’ letters were flying around the office. We squared up for a piece of futile, macho sabre-rattling. The High Court beckoned. The prospect of a day in the box against this bellicose Smurfit plutocrat rather appealed.

Enter an intermediary. Mary Finan, Smurfit’s public relations slave, tried to arrange a lunch. Neither of us relished the idea of breaking bread with each other. But we agreed to try to settle it outside the Four Courts. He came with his lawyers’ words ringing in his ears. I turned up, provided there was no sign of Mary or any other PR types within spitting distance.

The first 20 minutes were sticky. We argued the libel toss. Then we talked people, politics and gossip.I listed all the other people libelled in this column. And I repeated the libels with a bit of added value. In turn, he was gloriously indiscreet about one or two colleagues. The conflict dissolved. I cannot honestly remember whether we published an apology. But we met for lunch every 18 months or so after that to debunk a few business reputations. Not with any malice.

Paddy was incapable of it. But he had little time for the loud vulgarities of some of his business peers. He preferred a humble GAA match to their glamorous gigs. He was rich, but not ostentatious. His decision to take the chair at RTE after he retired from Smurfit’s was, as he said himself, virtually “pro bono.” He certainly had no need of the salary. But his reign there made a marked impact.

After Paddy’s five years in the saddle, the semi-state began to emerge from the cosy womb of commercial indifference. No longer were there supernumeraries on the RTE payroll, staying at home counting the days to retirement. He changed the ethos.

The last time I saw Paddy was at Dublin Airport. There were no Smurfits in sight; no RTE toffs; no Anglo Irish Banks top-dogs. He was taking his grandchildren to London for a Premiership football match.

That was Paddy.