'Memory Man' Jimmy Magee, veteran of 11 Olympics and 12 World Cups, dies aged 82
Popular sports presenter Jimmy Magee has died, aged 82.
The veteran broadcaster, known as the 'Memory Man', died overnight in hospital after his health declined in recent months.
He also wrote a column for The Sunday World and has been with the paper since it first opened in the 70s.
"This is very sad news. Jimmy was part of the Sunday World team for so long," said Sean McGoldrick from the Sunday World.
"He came into the office every Tuesday to do a quiz with the sports desk. I am here over 20 years and that was a ritual. He was only in here last week."
Jimmy's work ethic and passion for sport was the stuff of legend. The RTE commentator covered an astonishing 12 World Cups and 13 Olympic Games (including two Winter Olympics) during his illustrious career and since the first edition of the Sunday World in 1973, his column or quiz has appeared in every single publication since.
He became known as 'Memory Man' because of his extraordinary recall for sports names, dates and places.
He did admit that "all these years later I still have to pinch myself when I reflect".
The broadcasting dream began when, as a seven year old, "I fell so much in love with listening to the sports programmes I began to do my own imaginary programmes".
He even applied to RTE for a job at the age of 11.
He was turned down but applied again 10 years later and landed his first job reporting on a hockey game.
Magee was born in New York on January 31st 1935 to Irish parents, the first of four children. When he was three the family returned to Ireland to Greenore in Co Louth.
Magee cherished his dual citizenship and enjoyed what he called the "buzz of New York" and throughout his life tried to visit there at least once a year.
"I still get excited when I return to my birthplace," he explained.
His dreams of becoming a sports commentator took a twist at the age of 15 when his father died and the young teenager had to leave school.
He worked in a pharmacy in Carlingford, Co Louth for two years, earning £1 a week but then secured a job with British Rail for £4 a week.
The company transferred him to its Dublin offices and he met his future wife, Marie Gallagher in 1953.
He said it was love at first sight and the couple married on October 11th, 1955 when Magee was only 20.
They had five children, Paul, Mark, Patricia, June and Linda. Sadly Marie died at the age of 54 in 1989 and their son Paul died of motor neurone disease in 2008.
Early in his married life Magee began broadcasting at weekends while holding down his job with British Rail.
He worked on the RTE Radio 'Junior Sport Magazine' programme, presented by Harry Thuillier, where Magee reported on rugby, hockey and athletics.
In 1956 he got a full-time position in the sports department where his boss was his long time broadcasting idol Mícheál O hEithir. "O hEithir was the bee’s knees really," he stressed.
Magee's first big international interview was with golf legend Arnold Palmer and he covered his first World Cup for radio in 1966.
He went on to cover 11 more World Cups and 11 Olympic Games along with key sports events across the world.
He was particularly proud of being selected to give the entire commentary for the opening ceremony of the World Special Olympics in Croke Park in 2003 attended by President Nelson Mandela.
His commentaries ranged from football to Tour de France cycle races, world athletic championships, world boxing and GAA football and hurling finals.
Magee co-hosted a TV quiz show for RTE with George Hamilton from 1987-1998 called 'Know Your Sport'.
He also freelanced for Channel 4 in 1994 and for UTV from 1995-1998.
At the age of 80 he hosted a series for the Kerry based Irish TV called 'Jimmy’s Heroes on Irish TV'.
Asked about the highlight of his career he said his greatest Olympic moment was when legendary boxer Muhammad Ali lit the torch at the Atlanta games in 1996.
"That was the greatest moment in all the Olympics for me… I was as near as I’ve ever been to crying on the air."
Other highlights: "being in LA when Carl Lewis won his four gold medals was amazing. Maradona in 1984 was special. Meeting Muhammad Ali was special."
In 1972 he was given a Jacob’s Award for radio sports commentaries and in 1989 a special tribute was paid to him RTE’s Late Late Show.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics the International Olympic Committee presented him with a replica of the torch.
Sport was not his only interest. He loved music. He did publicity for some of the country’s top showbands in the 1960s and it was his idea for RTE to launch the Irish Top 30 radio show.
"Showbusiness has a very close relationship to sport because it is also a performance," he explained.
He also told how he kicked himself for passing up an opportunity to manage Country and Western singer Garth Brooks in Europe when the singer was still unknown outside the US.
Brooks went on to make more than $14m. "Ten percent on those figures would have set me up nicely," he said ruefully.
Magee was a huge Elvis fan and visited Graceland about five times.
He even released a single at the age of 79 called 'These Old Eyes Have Seen it All'.
That single was to raise awareness and funds for Motor Neurone disease research because of his son Paul’s untimely death from the disease.
He said he felt his son’s presence constantly at his side and when he was admitted to the Irish Independent Hall of Fame, he dedicated the award to Paul.
"It's not life's natural order for your children to pre-decease you," he said.
Magee gave up drink in 1973. "I just decided one day I wouldn't drink while my family were young. I just put it out of my mind, like cigarettes two years earlier.”
He had a health scare in 1999 when he underwent a triple heart by-pass. He recalled: "I cried bitterly after my heart operation. I had remained strong when my wife died by not crying -- even though I was a broken man on the inside -- but after the operation I broke down, because the sorrow of her death came flooding back to me."
Magee launched his memoir in 2012 – the aptly named 'Memory Man'.
Of his success he took the view: "I’m now convinced you can do anything you want to, if you put your mind to it. You have to have a modicum of talent or something to keep it going, but if you really want to do something you actually can do it, there’s no doubt about that."
In his memoir he said he went into broadcasting because he "realised that the greatest players didn’t last a lifetime, but commentators lasted forever".
"He was a legend of Irish sports journalism," said the Sunday World's John Brennan. "His column or his quiz has appeared in every single Sunday World paper since 1973. He never missed a week.
"He was great frun. He loved questions with little tricks in them and he came into our office every week armed with his latest list to try and catch us out.
Listen to Jimmy commentating on Diego Maradona's famous goal against England in the 1986 World Cup:
RIP Jimmy x— Richie Sadlier (@RichieSadlier) September 20, 2017
RIP Jimmy Magee. Our song was "Seven Spanish Angels"... the best travel companion ever. A pure rogue for the Craic.❤️ pic.twitter.com/PNJL9BlGaf— Des Cahill (@sportsdes) September 20, 2017
Heartbroken & saddened to hear the legendary Jimmy Magee has passed away. Jimmy was a great colleague & even better friend. I'll miss him. pic.twitter.com/hW2prMB6fd— Marty Morrissey (@MartyM_RTE) September 20, 2017
Jimmy Magee - a voice that will never be forgotten in Irish sport. A great character, a gentleman and my biggest supporter. RIP. pic.twitter.com/CpctrT0jit— Katie Taylor (@KatieTaylor) September 20, 2017
Jimmy Magee, 1935-2017. RIP pic.twitter.com/uRUcxoSELh— Sportsfile 🇮🇪 (@sportsfile) September 20, 2017
"He already had a quiz submitted for next Sunday."
RTE's Des Cahill paid an emotional tribute to Jimmy on Morning Ireland.
"Everyone knows Jimmy's personality and warmth," said Cahill.
"To travel with him he was unbelievable craic. He was a pure rogue for getting a laugh going with a group on a trip away."
Cahill explained how they travelled for days on the Tour de France together.
"He was kind to the youngsters coming along. He was known by the families of all the sports men and women because he was a family man, he was a fun man.
"He was known for cheeky humour, he would set you up big time if he could. I have many warm memories of him."
Cahill continued: "The memory man thing stemmed from his love of sport. You will get people who learn off subjects like in school but in sport you don't have to learn off things if you love it.
"He was always talking about sports men and women and therefore he had a great knowledge."
Former Ireland keeper Shay Given offered his condolences on Twitter.
"Sad news to hear that Jimmy Magee has passed away. One of the best commentators of Irish sport ever RIPJimmy," tweeted Given.
"Jimmy was interested in all sports, he had a great love for it. He was always great company," said John Giles, speaking on Newstalk.
"Jimmy knew all the facts and figures and had a genuine interest in football. He actually loved the game and that came across in Jimmy's commentary.
"He had a good sense of humour and he wasn't a bad singer; he was more than able to hold his own in a good singsong."
The Soccer Writers' Association of Ireland expressed its great sadness at the passing of their "member, friend and legendary sports journalist Jimmy Magee".
Jimmy was a former president of the Association and, despite his advancing years, he remained an active and dedicated member of the SWAI right up to his passing, attending meetings and making valuable contributions.
SWAI President Mark McCadden said: "Jimmy Magee was always a voice of calm and measure in our often feisty debates.
"Despite the array of stars from the world of football that would attend our annual banquet, guests would invariably seek out Jimmy for a photo and a chat.
"I speak for our entire membership when I describe as an honour the sharing of a press box and our association with the great Jimmy Magee. He will be greatly missed."
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said: "His commentaries were legendary and based on a breadth of sporting knowledge that was peerless. He also had an innate sense of timing which often meant that Jimmy’s descriptions of great events became as memorable as the events themselves.
"For many Irish people, Jimmy Magee’s voice is the soundtrack of their sporting memories. From Maradona, to Michael Carruth, to Eamonn Coghlan and John Treacy and many, many more, he covered all the great events with a warmth, clarity and infectious enthusiasm.
"Jimmy was part of the very fabric of Irish sport. He lived and breathed it and would talk and reminisce and recall sport with anyone and everyone. Though Jimmy’s voice may now be silent, the wonderful memories brought to us by the Memory Man himself will live on forever."
Magee summed up his long career in one interview with the words: “I've been a lucky boy. I was in the right place at the right time. My one regret is that sooner or later, I'm going to expire."