Wednesday 11 December 2019

Obituary: James Osborne

Former lawyer who became chairman of Independent News & Media and a director of Ryanair, writes Liam Collins

WELL RESPECTED: Then INM chairman James Osborne with partner Patricia Devine at the funeral of ‘Sunday Independent’ editor Aengus Fanning in 2012. Photo: David Conachy
WELL RESPECTED: Then INM chairman James Osborne with partner Patricia Devine at the funeral of ‘Sunday Independent’ editor Aengus Fanning in 2012. Photo: David Conachy

James Osborne, who has died tragically at the age of 68, was an urbane, low-key and well respected corporate and legal figure.

Chairman of Eason and a long-time director of Ryanair, he was an independent minded figure in the boardroom who always appeared calm, well-informed and well-prepared for whatever task he was engaged in.

Socially, he was a personable figure, interesting, humorous and always quick to the point. Unfailingly courteous, he always appeared to give his full attention to whoever he was dealing with.

He did not believe in ostentatious displays of wealth or influence and he once said his perfect Saturday afternoon relaxation was to put a few bets on the horses and watch the racing over a pint of Guinness, or at most two.

Born in Devon in April, 1949 where his father was a Royal Navy Commander, he grew up in Milford, Co Donegal. He was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and Trinity College Dublin, where he graduated with a BA in 1972. He joined the solicitors' firm A&L Goodbody in 1973 and was made a partner of the firm just six years later. He established a branch in New York in 1979 and spent two years there before returning to Dublin.

Described as a "brilliant and personable lawyer" he became managing partner of Goodbody's in 1982 and did much to turn it into one of the top legal firms in the country.

In his early career he worked closely with the businessman Dermot Desmond, he was legal adviser to Larry Goodman and a central figure in restructuring his agri-empire after his group went into examinership in 1990.

He retired in 1994 at the age of 45 but maintained an office in Goodbody where he continued to work as a corporate consultant.

He was appointed a director of Bank of Ireland and the dairy company Golden Vale, establishing a reputation as a tough and in some way uncompromising boardroom figure who took his role very seriously in the interests of the business and shareholders.

He became a director of Ryanair in 1995 and became a close adviser to its chief executive, Michael O'Leary.

He was also chairman of the booksellers Eason and instrumental in turning the business around in the last number of years.

He was appointed chairman of Independent News & Media in succession to Brian Hillery but was voted off the board after a dispute over the settlement reached with Gavin O'Reilly to leave his post as chief executive.

He was also a director of cement makers James Hardie Industries and a number of other companies, both public and private.

James Osborne's leisure pursuits were horse racing, sailing and heritage. He was chairman of Punchestown racecourse for a number of years and a member of the board of the Irish Heritage Trust and Fota House in Co Cork. He had a share in a 46ft cruiser called Hibernia for some years and sailed to various destinations every summer.

He is survived by his wife, Heather, and one son and one daughter from his marriage, and his partner Patricia Devine and their daughter.


In further tributes, Julian Yarr, managing partner of A&L Goodbody, said: "We were very saddened to hear about the passing of our dear friend and colleague James Osborne. James made an exceptional contribution to A&L Goodbody and Irish corporate life.

"As an individual, he was a hugely positive force and was held in the highest esteem by everyone he worked with through the years.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends at this very sad time."

Meanwhile, Eason released a statement: "It is with great sadness that we have learned about the passing of our chairman, James Osborne.

"Managing director Liam Hanly, the board and the staff of Eason would like to express our gratitude to an exceptional friend and colleague. Our sympathies and condolences are with his family and friends at this time."

Sunday Independent

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