Now the loves of his life are united in sorrow
Published 01/05/2010 | 05:00
ONE called him Gerard, the other Gerry. One was his ex-wife, the other, his new partner of two years.
The two women in Gerry Ryan's life were last night trying to come to terms with his sudden death: his artist ex-wife Morah (50), who he married in 1981; and his girlfriend Melanie Verwoerd (43), the former South African ambassador to Ireland who found him collapsed at his Leeson Street apartment.
The trio -- Gerry, Morah and Melanie -- were inextricably thrown under an intense media spotlight after the Ryan's 26-year marriage broke up in March 2008.
The 2FM shock-jock DJ wasn't comfortable with all the attention it attracted, but he was pragmatic and conceded: "I'm big and I'm bold and I can get through the latest publicity. But it's been difficult for my family so I'm living in the land of 'no comment'."
The Ryans' shock split attracted above-average attention because they were a golden couple on Ireland's social scene -- A-listers on the best party circuit.
Mother-of-two Melanie had a media profile of her own, having served as South African ambassador to Ireland from 2001-2005.
The two women who won Gerry Ryan's heart shared many similarities.
Apart from both being regulars on the social pages, they share physical similarities -- both are dark haired and petite in frame. Both women have very expressive eyes and memorable, infectious smiles.
RTE listeners felt they knew the Ryans.
Gerry was forever telling his 2FM morning audience about "Mrs Ryan" and life in the Ryan household -- something that Morah didn't relish and, as a result, she never listened to her husband's radio show.
When the couple's solicitor announced their shock break-up in March 2008, Gerry moved out of the family's period home on Castle Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin. The idyllic looking cream-fronted period house, with roses growing over the door, had recently been extended and refurbished but the family was downsized and Gerry moved into the Four Seasons in Ballsbridge, just up the road from the RTE studios.
Curiosity was intense because the country knew what a romantic Gerry was.
He had proposed to Morah Brennan just six weeks after they met , stealing a kissing the first night they met when he brought her out from a party to see kittens in the garden.
They had started out as a romantic young couple about town. He was the Trinity-trained legal eagle who gave up law to be a pirate radio broadcaster, and with his arty-sculptor wife drove around town in a battered Fiat 127.
The couple were even joined on their honeymoon by his RTE colleague Pat Kenny; and after starting out in a small artisan dwelling in the inner city they moved to Marino and finally to a dream, period home in Clontarf.
There were no clues that the Ryans' marriage was in trouble in June 2006 when Morah happily threw her husband a surprise 50th birthday, with 75 friends and family joining him at his favourite restaurant, Shanahan's on St Stephen's Green. That day -- June 5 -- was also the couple's 24th wedding anniversary; and although they reached their silver wedding anniversary, they had called it a day nine months later.
Morah, a stay-at-home wife who raised the couple's five children, disappeared from the social scene.
But she spoke about her heartbreak for the first time last November.
"I don't see my marriage as a failure," she said at the time.
"I walked down that aisle saying: 'He'll be throwing the clay on top of me and then he'll be down after me.' So it's quite shocking when that doesn't happen. And you plan growing old together, and that's all gone."
Morah said the marriage split had been "painful", not only for her but for "Gerard, too. and for our children".
She added: "You don't walk away from somebody after 30 years. Two people don't -- that's like a lifetime -- do that without a lot of thought. And when there are so many people involved. "
Gerry was tightlipped and didn't analyse his marriage break-up in his autobiography. However, he did concede in an interview that the split had been "the most painful decision" that either of them ever had to make.
The 2FM host also spoke out against friends who, he claimed, abandoned him during this "very traumatic" time.
"Since Morah and I split up an awful lot of people that I know haven't even lifted up the phone to ask me how I was.
"Honest to God, I have about three close friends and that's it. And do you know what, I honestly didn't give a s***. I'm a bit disappointed with some. But really, at the end of the day, it's a life-affirming experience because it taught me who I could actually depend on and who doesn't matter." He received support from writer and Booker Prize winner John Banville.
He said: "I met John through my good friend Harry Crosbie and he's an absolute gentleman and an absolute genius.
"But men, even if they're the shining light of English literature, don't know what to say about a separation.
"I remember we were having a conversation and John goes 'and how's that other thing?'. I knew exactly what he meant, so I nodded and said: 'It's okay.' Then he said: 'Very difficult. Very difficult.'
"And that was our conversation about it. I think Van Morrison called it the inarticulate speech of the heart."
Single again, he said he lived in "the bachelor world of separation" where he watched the Discovery Channel in his pyjamas while nursing a glass of whiskey in a shiny new apartment.
"I've got a job that requires me to get up early in the mornings so I don't go to nightclubs. I'm not out on the piss. I'm not chasing young ones."
Unlike other couples who face financial strains on top of emotional heartbreak, the Ryans were well off.
In addition to Gerry's €600,000 salary from RTE, the broadcaster received a reported €100,000 for his life story from Penguin.
He met Melanie through her work with UNICEF.
She was the youngest woman elected to South Africa's first democratic parliament in 1994 and was very visible on the social scene after she was appointed executive director of UNICEF Ireland in 2007.
Separated like the Ryans, she has a 20-year-old daughter, Wilme, and a 17-year-old son, Wian; and counts broadcaster Marian Finucane as one of her closest Irish friends.
Morah's many friends were delighted to see her out and about celebrating her 50th birthday last year.
A party was thrown by Caroline and Denis Desmond at their Killiney home. Morah is also back sculpting, with looks that 30-somethings would love to have.