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Try-scoring marketing giant Tony O’Reilly dies at 88

Old hands often lament the (relative) lack of personalities in adland but they’re usually talking about agency supremos like Frank Lowe and Charles Saatchi (Charles well understood that if you want to be talked about build a reputation as reclusive.)

Leopardstown Races 12/8/2001Sir Anthony O’ReillyMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Clients don’t figure very highly but one who did was Tony O’Reilly, who died this week at 88. O’Reilly was no ordinary client: he launched Kerrygold in Ireland (even though they didn’t make much butter in Kerry), became boss of Heinz, owned the Independent newspaper empire when it was one and blew the lot when he and his brother-in-law bought Waterford Wedgwood (then Ireland’s biggest employer) which failed in 2009.

He was most famous though for his exploits on the rugby field for Ireland and the British Lions. He debuted for the Lions in South Africa in 1955 aged just 19, scoring a bagful of tries and helping to secure a draw with the mighty Springboks. In New Zealand in 1959 he continued his merry way, reaching a record 37 tries for the Lions (tours were longer then) on just two tours. (They lost that series thanks to a hometown ref who kept giving New Zealand penalties when they were behind.)

Seven years after retiring for business he was recalled to the Irish colours against England at Twickenham (he arrived in a chauffeur-driven Merc) as he recalls here.

Aged 11 or so I was despatched by Campaign to cover an Advertising Association conference in Brighton and there the great man was, delivering the keynote address. No recollection at all of what he actually said but the room was transfixed and the delegates (for once a speaker got everybody out of bed) left in a happy daze. And it wasn’t just blarney although he could do that too.

But how many of today’s business execs could deliver a verse or two of poetry off the cuff?

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