Tributes pour in for the man who 'transformed the skies of Europe'
ONE of Ireland greatest business leaders, Dr Tony Ryan, passed away yesterday after a long illness.
Dr Ryan (71) was not only one of the most successful Irish businessmen but was regarded as an inspiration for a generation of Irish business leaders, some of whom he personally mentored.
The son of a train driver, Dr Ryan went on to become an executive with Aer Lingus. He secured his legacy in 1975 when, having spotted a gap in the market for leased aircraft, he founded Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA).
The company went onto become the largest aircraft leasing firm in the world and by the early Nineties was valued at more than $4bn (€2.8bn).
Most people, however, will remember him as the founder of Ryanair, which he began in 1985 with a 15-seater aircraft flying between Waterford and Gatwick. Ryanair went on to revolutionise air travel across Europe, bringing low-cost travel to a generation of people who previously could not afford to fly.
Dr Ryan passed away at 3.00pm yesterday at his home at Lyons Demesne, Celbridge, Co Kildare.
In a statement his family said: "Our beloved Tony bore his illness with determined strength of character and great courage. We are thankful to the many medical and nursing professionals for their wonderful care and kindness in hospitals in Ireland and the United States.
"We are proud of Tony's many achievements, of his spirit of entrepreneurship which created enterprise and opportunity for many people in this country and abroad and, most especially, we are proud to have been his loving and loved family."
The tributes to Dr Ryan were led by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He said: " Dr. Ryan's contribution to the development of aviation in Ireland and indeed globally is immense. His vision in recognising the potential of aircraft leasing to transform the global aviation market was remarkable.
"The establishment of Ryanair and its subsequent rise to become one of the leading carriers in Europe is one of the greatest Irish economic success stories and will be rightly regarded as perhaps his greatest legacy."
Michael O'Leary, who Dr Ryan appointed as chief executive of the airline which bore his name, was also among those who paid tribute.
He said: "Tony Ryan was one of the greatest Irishmen of the 20th Century. His many achievements in business, education, sport, the arts and heritage preservation leave an astonishing legacy to an extraordinary man.
David Bonderman, the Ryanair chairman said: "It has been a pleasure and a privilege both to know and work with Tony Ryan. Whether it was airline investments in Asia, vineyards in Europe or bloodstock in the US, he brought a tremendous sense of style, charm and good humour to his business and personal relationships."
Sir Anthony O'Reilly, the chief executive of Independent News & Media, was also among those who paid tribute yesterday. He said: "Tony Ryan was a true pioneer. He was immensely hard-working, talented, witty and at times, a hard task master.
"He changed the skies of Europe, not just for the Irish, but indeed for all Europeans. That will be his epitaph. It could not be more appropriate."
Aer Lingus last night paid tribute to Dr Ryan, who began his career with the company.
Expressing his condolences to the family, chief executive Dermot Mannion said: "Dr Ryan was a pioneer in global aviation whose vision and tenacity fuelled an awakening in Irish aviation which has had profound and positive impact for the country and its citizens.
Dr Ryan's funeral service and burial, at Lyons Demesne, will be for family only. A memorial service will be held in the coming weeks to celebrate his life.