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Eamon Keane: Let's remember Gerry as he was . . . Funny, fearless and flawed

WHEN I was a young boy, I pulled apart my father's radio to find the men who were hiding behind its back panel.

Someone had to be making the sound.

My Dad wasn't impressed. Years later I found the man who was making that sound. I was sitting in the RTE canteen, a new recruit to the station. Then he came over.

Gerry Ryan said hello to me, said something about a good report I'd done for the Five Seven Live programme. I was on a high.

I don't claim to be a friend of Gerry.

We both worked in RTE but, like you, I knew him intimately from the radio.

We were all his lovers, weren't we? He'd sneak in as you turned over in the bed.

Sometimes maybe he'd break the silence of morning as you fed and watered the kids for school.

Other times you came back from town and he was there waiting for you. The Annunciation. A voice weighted with worldliness, tinged with magical whispered wisdom and roguery. A voice telling you that you were entering the Parliament of Gerry. A parliament because everyone was equal and had a voice.

I remember the woman who rang the Ryanline to join in a debate on why the genders needed each other.

"You're on," says Gerry.

"Well, Gerry, women need men because vibrators can't mow the lawn."

We turned Gerry on. And Gerry turned us on. The Parliament of Gerry was special because of its parliamentary privilege and boy did Gerry make use of it!

Unspoken

Everyone was welcome and equal, whether star or housewife, taxman or taximan. His gift was to make real our unspoken thoughts, fears and desires. We lived vicariously through him. He could get away with saying the thoughts we never dared utter.

I loved when he went for it. He did it years before it was popular or profitable. Why? Because he cared. Remember the interview he did with abuse victim Lavinia Kerwick, who suffered from anorexia? Gently handled.

When that red light went on, Gerry was gold.

Sex, domestic abuse, gay issues, drink and drugs were unmentionables in Ireland. Gerry broke through the veil.

I remember meeting a woman who was living with abuse and she told me how a discussion on Gerry's show gave her a fragment of hope. Broke the isolation.

The Ryan voice was so, so good. It was musical because Gerry was a superb actor.

The inflection, the use of the pause, the ability to listen all made him technically superb. Gerry knew how to use silence and moreover he wasn't afraid of it.

Then there was the intelligence which bristled through the airwaves. I could hear when he was leading a guest, like a good barrister, to a point which they never intended to reach. Imperceptible and deadly.

When I got my own show, I listened to him even more intently. Gerry's take on the day's headlines was unique. Editorially it was all encompassing. His orchestral voice was the overture to my day.

Much has been written about RTE's response or non-response to Gerry's obvious difficulties.

My talented father struggled with addiction and worked most of his adult life in RTE. My experience of the organisation was one of sensitivity, support and kindness.

So let's remember Gerry as he was. Family man, funny, fearless, flawed. And friend.


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