Saturday, April 30, 2011

Olympic Fencer Dies

From the Irish Times
Harry Thuillier, who has died aged 88, was a former broadcaster and fencing star and represented Ireland in the individual foil events at the Olympic Games in 1952 and 1960.
He was the originator and presenter of the first dedicated sports programme on Raidió Éireann. A children’s programme, Junior Sports Magazine , first went on air in 1955 and mainly covered rugby, hockey and athletics. Up to then sports coverage was confined to match commentaries and separate GAA and soccer results programmes.
Junior Sports Magazine , which was broadcast on Saturday afternoons, paved the way for the “adult” Sports Stadium on Friday evenings, which covered all codes. Sports Stadium in turn laid the foundation for today’s extensive RTÉ sports coverage.
Jimmy Magee began his career as a broadcaster on Junior Sports Magazine; other contributors included Jim Tunney (later a Fianna Fáil TD) and Irish Times journalist Peter Byrne.
Magee this week described his colleague as innovative and full of life. He was “a lovely broadcaster with a friendly voice, a people’s man”.
Recalling his experience as an Olympian, Thuillier said: “To compete in the Games is really an education, one which I wish a few more Irish athletes could enjoy. I do believe we need to learn the lesson of the will to win: that’s a lesson which is the outstanding part of the education one gets at the Games.”
Born in Dublin in 1922, he was one of six children of Joseph Thuillier and his wife Mary (née Daly). He was educated at St Patrick’s national school, Drumcondra, and St Vincent’s secondary school, Glasnevin.
He and his siblings were members of the Achilles fencing club and his competitive record was impressive – 14 national foil titles, the sabre title twice and two epee championships.
He also was Irish table tennis champion from 1944 to 1950.
One of his outstanding fencing bouts was in 1954 when he crossed swords with the Swede Baron Rehbinder, Helsinki Olympics finalist, at the Irish open championship in Cork.
“It was touch and go the whole time,” he recalled. “One moment I found myself full of hope and level at 2-2, the next down 4-2. I made it 4-3. Then it was a question of whether I could beat the Baron – and the clock – to level the score . . . Finally, I tried a lunge and penetrated his guard – with only 10 seconds to spare.
“After that, it was cat and mouse, as we fought for the hit that would decide the championship. Suddenly, he lunged at me and, I think, was surprised when instead of retiring, I held my ground. Countering, I just caught him on the elbow – and the crowd shattered a really tense silence.”
In his 20s he spent three years in England learning the basics of the leather tanning business. But having returned to Ireland in 1950, by the mid-1950s he was the advertising salesman for the Irish Catholic.
Eventually he went into business for himself, producing and presenting sponsored programmes on RTÉ radio.
Programmes with which he was associated include Come Fly With Me , in which he interviewed passengers on Aer Lingus flights, Tayto Quiz and Murrays’ Musical Memories . He also presented Ireland’s Top Ten .
In 1959 Junior Sports Magazine was replaced with the Dubtex Sports Special, sponsored by the clothing company, which he also presented.
On July 6th, 1962, he was a guest on the first ever Late, Late Show, along with Ken Gray and George D Hodnett, both of this newspaper, and the resident panel of Danny Cummins, Verona Mullen and Prof Liam Ó Briain.
In 1979 he helped found the first Lions club with an exclusive sporting membership, serving the Sandymount-Irishtown-Ringsend area of Dublin. He was a former chairman of the Fencing Federation of Ireland.
Predeceased by his son Harry jnr in 1997, he is survived by his wife Frankie (Frances McDermott), and sons Nikki and Ian.

Harry Thuillier: born September 13th, 1922; died April 26th, 2011

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