Wednesday 23 May 2018

Obituary: Fred Perry

Former supermarket owner became one of Ireland's best known golf officials, writes Dermot Gilleece

DEDICATED: Fred Perry
DEDICATED: Fred Perry

Tucked away on top of a press in his Boyle home, Fred Perry kept a piece of whale-meat which first came into his possession in Iceland 37 years ago.

"It sort of dried out and cured itself over the years, so it doesn't stink any more," he said when we chatted recently.

The most dedicated official in the recent history of Irish golf, died on March 3. Still going strong at 84, he spent the last week of his life rescheduling a meeting of the Golfing Union of Ireland's constitution review committee, which he was due to chair last Wednesday.

He had previously served as convenor of this committee from 2009 to 2012 and before that, had headed the crucial venues and fixtures committee from 2005 to 2008.

Fredrick William (Fred) Perry was born in Bunclody, Co Wexford, on November 12, 1933. As a student at The Tate School, he informed his parents that they were wasting their money on his education, whereby he left school as a 13-year-old and went on to gain the distinction of opening the first supermarket west of the Shannon.

His search for work brought him in 1953 to Boyle, Co Roscommon, which became his adopted home, starting with a job in a hardware store. By 1961, he had saved enough to buy a local store which he turned into Connacht's first supermarket. In the meantime, he married local girl Emily McMaster and having reared four daughters and a son, they were in their 60th year together.

His serious involvement as a golf administrator dates back to 1974 when he was first elected to the Central Council GUI and was especially proud of becoming its longest-serving member. After the death of Connacht Branch chairman George Soden, Fred found himself drafted into the role of president-elect of the GUI in 1981, which brought him to Iceland as a member of the Irish party for the European Junior Championship in Reykjavik.

While on that trip, he acquired the memento he insisted on bringing home. It may be that as an enthusiastic fisherman, the Icelandic whale stirred in him wild notions of becoming a latter-day Captain Ahab. Either way, it seemed highly appropriate that he should have been laid to rest last Tuesday in the hillside grounds of his parish church overlooking Lough Key, where he loved to venture when the mayfly was up.

He also retained Icelandic memories of an attack by Arctic terns when he and the Union's president, John McInerney, took to the fairways for a leisurely game of golf on the nine-hole Ness course, perched on a peninsula about seven kilometres from Reykjavik. Indeed, he insisted that it was only through some extremely adroit footwork and his wild swinging of a mid-iron, that serious injury to both officials was averted.

"The boys back here would get a quare shock if those lads [terns] started down on them in the middle of a Sunday fourball," he declared. "They'd make it shockin' difficult to keep your head down in the middle of a stroke!"

He became president of the GUI in 1982 but it was as a front-line official likely to be found more often on the golf course than in the comfort of the clubhouse, that he made his greatest contribution to the game he loved. A keen sense of humour proved to be a considerable asset and he took great pride in having refereed the final of the 2005 Irish Amateur Close Championship at Westport, where Rory McIlroy captured the title for the first time.

McIlroy was also a two-time winner of the West of Ireland Championship for which Perry served 40 years as a committee member until he felt it was time to depart the scene 11 months ago and make way for a younger replacement.

At his funeral service, his daughter, Heather, spoke of his great way with people, reflected in his role as a founder-member of Boyle Golf Club and as a merchandiser for Jacobs Biscuits after selling the supermarket in 1986. Mind you, an innate stubbornness could be detected in his favourite saying: "I might be wrong but I know I'm not."

A sometimes rewarding feature of funerals can be the discovery of amusing, unheard stories about the deceased, along with some familiar classics. In this context, there were many competing voices on the outskirts of Boyle last Tuesday.

"When I go, I'll stop the town," one of the locals recalled Perry once saying. And he did.

Sunday Independent

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