Thursday 27 April 2017

An unearthly silence as the whole truth finally came out

GERRY made a solemn promise to honour the two "un-negotiables" in their relationship. And number one was the use of drugs.

The ladylike former South African ambassador was adamant and her words rang defiantly: "I made it clear to him that I'd be out the door. There'd be no second chances."

She was confident that he had kept that promise to her.

Just a short few minutes later, Melanie Verwoerd crumpled, sobbing, in her seat in the small old-fashioned courtroom as the incontrovertible facts emerged to prove that Gerry had not, in fact, kept his word and had, perhaps, even lied to her.

It had been an extremely difficult morning for the two women who had shared the life of the highly popular RTE broadcaster. For his ex-wife of 26 years and mother of his five children, to whom he was "Gerard" and for the partner of two years to whom -- like his enormous audience of radio listeners -- he was simply "Gerry".

Of them both, Morah Ryan was the first to arrive yesterday, driving into the yard at the side of the Dublin City Coroner's Court in a shiny black Mercedes, together with her eldest son, Rex.

She sat close to the wall of the courtroom as though she almost sought its security, Rex beside her, and then Gerry's brother Mano (Vincent) and some other members of the extended family.

Her tiny frame was clad in a dainty black coat and she wore her dark hair swept into a fashionably messy up-do. A small smile on her face, she appeared fragile and doll-like and she fanned herself with a notebook from time to time amid the stuffy atmosphere of the room.

A short time later, Melanie Verwoerd arrived, also dressed in black, with a mauve-coloured shawl over her shoulders. She too, was tiny, having publicly spoken of her weight loss since Gerry's death, she wore glasses and her thick dark hair loose around her face.

The courtroom fell into a respectful silence as, with great purpose, she bustled directly over to Morah, almost as though she had decided long in advance that this is what she would do, and greeted her, kissing her cheek and shaking her hand.

With grace and scrupulous manners, the two women smiled at one another -- it was the first time they had met since their initial encounter over the coffin of the man they had loved. Any possible tensions that may exist lay only behind the scenes.

The moment was over in a flash and then Melanie moved on, shaking the hand of Rex and then Mano before taking her own seat at the opposite bench.

Glamorous though the small gathering was, with the men in good suits and the women immaculately turned out, they cut a moving picture as they waited, all but outnumbered by the 30 press members present.

The arrival of eminent criminal law barrister, Brendan Grehan was startling -- but he reassured coroner Dr Brian Farrell that he was there on behalf of the Ryan family to "assist" in any way he could.

Morah was the first witness to be called as the inquest began and she took the oath in a small, husky voice before her short deposition was read into the evidence that told how she had identified the body of her husband at the Dublin City Morgue.

"That was the day after his death," Dr Farrell prompted. "Yes," she agreed, smiling.

As the inquest continued, came the time for another woman in Gerry's life to give evidence -- his colleague at RTE and series producer of the 'Gerry Ryan Show', Alice O'Sullivan.

A tall brisk woman in a deep peach-coloured scarf who had been sitting close to Melanie in the courtroom, she told the inquest how she had known Gerry for 20 years and worked with him for six years as series producer -- and, reading between the lines, it seemed she had been a bit of a rock in his life.

She had been awoken at midnight by a missed call from him and, instantly alert, rang him back. He complained of feeling "exhausted", "just wrecked," and didn't think he'd be able to make it in the next morning.

Alice told him to take the day off and to get some rest -- it was the Friday of a bank holiday weekend. She would arrange for someone else to present the next day.

"I owe you one," Gerry gratefully told her. Alice replied that he did, seeing as how he had woken her up at midnight and he laughed.

A short time later came Melanie's turn. She appeared a little nervous and with a trace of a foreign accent, she told of her time with Gerry, speaking frankly after her formal deposition had been read into the record.

Had he ever complained of feeling unwell? The coroner inquired.

Gerry had been "very unwell" and was under extreme pressure and stress, trying to sort out the terms of his separation agreement; was under enormous pressure from RTE and under enormous financial pressure.

He suffered palpitations, dizzy spells and bouts of stomach aches and, in the last two weeks of his life, "barely slept, ever", Melanie emphasised.

The story she painted of him was tragic. The high-achieving, larger-than-life bon vivant, whose life played out daily on his radio show was, behind the scenes, a nervous, quivering shell of a man, barely coping with the turmoil of his private life.

An unsteady Skype connection between Ireland and Canada, transmitting the live evidence of pathologist Dr Eamon Leen furnished the hearing with the final piece of this sad tale.

Dr Leen's voice came and went at intervals -- but what he was saying was clear enough. Gerry Ryan's body showed traces of cocaine.

At the first mention of the word, Melanie's head sank into her hands and her shoulder shook with sobs. Morah's face remained unchanged, as she listened intently, her hand closely resting by that of her son.

As Dr Leen reached the conclusion of his report -- that cocaine was the "likely trigger" that had led to death, only the sound of a siren outside broke the unearthly silence of the courtroom.

Irish Independent

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