Tuesday 25 July 2017

Obituary: Greg McCambridge

Champion athlete who had an insatiable appetite for life, writes Charles Lysaght

Greg McCambridge. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Greg McCambridge. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Charles Lysaght

In the dismal 1950s, when he left St Mary's College, Rathmines, Gregory McCambridge, who died after a brief illness on April 30, aged 79, seemed more fortunate than most in having his future assured. He was the only son and presumed heir of a father who was a substantial timber importer and owned property.

Greg, as he was always known, had been a champion athlete, as well as being the star bowler on Father Barry's cricket team at St Mary's. His insatiable appetite for the best in life propelled him to brave clerical disapproval and go on to Trinity, where he read philosophy with economics and politics - the philosopher's quest for ultimate truth remained a lifetime pre-occupation jostling uneasily with a characteristic loyalty to the old certainties in which he was reared.

At Trinity, Greg turned to golf and became the first golfer to be awarded a 'pink' - the ultimate accolade in Trinity sport. He was elected to the college's select sporting brotherhood, the Knights of the Campanile.

Tall, handsome and dashing, he took his studies lightly and savoured to the full the hectic social life of Trinity, hot in pursuit of the fashionable young ladies who congregated in the fun-loving anglicised college of that era. He was nicknamed "Rhett Butler" after the star in the film Gone with the Wind.

He married, in 1963, Patricia Phelan, an English girl of Irish parentage, whom he met at Trinity. He said that she appealed to an idealistic streak in him and his love of beauty. Living in Highfield Road, Rathgar, they had four daughters and four sons, tragically losing a baby boy in a cot death.

Greg was too often absent and perhaps too self-indulgent to be an ideal father for young or adolescent children, but, in time, his exceptional warmth and affectionate nature created a deep bond.

Endlessly patient, Patricia put up with Greg's bachelor lifestyle. She provided the security that he needed as much as the affirmation he sought endlessly in the outside world. Two of his favourite clubs, Fitzwilliam and Portmarnock, did not admit women.

Patricia would not join their daughters in protesting to him, saying: "Your father spends so much time there," she remarked, "that I am just as pleased there are no ladies".

The business career mapped out for Greg evaporated when the recession in building - set off by the oil crisis of the 1970s - drove the family firm into voluntary liquidation, leaving Greg with lots of leisure and the money to enjoy it. Ever adventurous and curious about other civilizations, he became a mighty traveller. When at home he was a gregarious man about town, who added much to the gaiety of life.

He turned into a substantial investor, taking a keen interest at a non-executive level in businesses he financed.

He survived the losses suffered as a name at Lloyds, the insurers, where it was not quite as gentlemanly as, in his trusting way, he had believed. He enjoyed some success but it was never enough.

His Benedictine son put it well at the funeral Mass when he said that his father lived always believing there was a crock of gold over the horizon.

Patricia's death in 2014 was a blow to Greg. He faced death with acceptance, expressing the hope that he would be reunited with her. He is survived by their seven children and 13 grandchildren.

Sunday Independent

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