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Monday 29 May 2017

Dr Michael Slazenger

Powerscourt estate owner and heir to the Slazenger fortune shunned media attention, writes Rory Egan

A huge crowd packed St Patrick's Church in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, on Thursday to pay their last respects to Dr Michael Slazenger, owner of the Powerscourt estate and heir to the Slazenger family fortune.

He died on Monday of injuries suffered in a tragic plane crash the previous Saturday. The retired anaesthetist was an extremely popular man who shunned media attention wherever possible, preferring the company of family and friends.

He was born into power and privilege 69 years ago. His father, Ralph, inherited the Slazenger sports company that was the source of their great wealth. The company is one of the oldest sports brands in the world and was started by his grandfather, also called Ralph, and great-uncle Isaac in Manchester in 1880.

The company manufactured the famous 'guttie' golf ball in 1891 and became the leading tennis ball supplier at the turn of the century.

Dr Slazenger's father oversaw the expansion of the company worldwide due to the astute sponsorship of major sporting personalities. They signed up Fred Perry just before he won his three Wimbledon titles and added Ken Rosewall later as they strengthened their business in Australia. In golf they had the two biggest names in the sport's history when they signed Jack Nicklaus in 1964 and later Severiano Ballesteros in the Seventies.

In 1953, Ralph moved his family to Ireland, buying Durrow Abbey House in Co Offaly, later bought by the State and now housing the Arts for Peace Foundation. The Slazenger family lived there for eight years until Ralph sold the sports firm to Dunlop in 1961.

With the proceeds of the sale he bought Powerscourt, one of Ireland's finest estates from the Wingfield family. A year later, in a coincidence of wealth and lineage, Dr Slazenger's sister, Wendy, married Mervyn Niall Wingfield, the 10th Earl of Powerscourt, whose family built and owned Powerscourt from 1603 until its sale.

The Powerscourt estate is home to the highest waterfall in Ireland and one of the most spectacular settings in the country. The house itself has changed in design over many centuries but its Palladian north front was famous around Europe as being a classic of its time. The avenue leading up to the house is a mile long and lined with more than 2,000 beech trees.

The Slazenger family decided to refurbish the house and open it to the public but on November 4, 1974, a fire broke out on the top floor. By the time the fire brigade arrived it had turned into an inferno and the house was completely gutted.

Dr Slazenger and the family kept the estate open to the public and the historic gardens continued to draw substantial crowds. A programme of restoration, renovation and commercialisation was undertaken by the family and now the estate is one of the most successful in the country.

Dr Slazenger retired as a consultant anaesthetist with St Michael's Hospital in Dun Laoghaire back in 2005. He was greatly admired and respected by his colleagues and those who worked with him had nothing but kind words to say about him. He always had a keen eye on business, however, and this played a major part in the success of Powerscourt. Although he came to golf relatively late in life, his love of the game led to the creation of a championship golf course on the estate in 1996. The course was very much a commercial undertaking and was leased to Powerscourt Golf Club of which Michael became president.

He inherited his father's passion for aviation and kept his Falco F8L on the airstrip at the estate. It is said his wife Noreen always dreaded the possibility of a mishap while he was flying.

Sunday Independent

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