Mourners pack Malton church for the funeral of Tom O’Ryan on Monday
PICTURE: Dan Abraham
David Carr at the funeral of Tom O’Ryan, a man who touched the lives of so many people
MALTON has been a racing town for more than three centuries but it can rarely have seen anything like this.
Nor can St Leonard St Mary’s, in nearly three times as long. It claims to be probably the oldest catholic church still in use in England and was founded in 1190, but this has to be a first.
The 800-year-old site is sardine-full this morning, as is the annex that has been set up to hold the overflow.
And there is scarcely a spare blade of grass visible on the lawn outside as the funeral mass for Tom O’Ryan is relayed by loudspeaker to those standing. Shortly after 11am ‘Lord of all hopefulness’ rings out over the rooftops in a small but crowded corner of North Yorkshire.
Nor is it just the great and the good of racing who join with friends and family to remember a man whose death at the age of 61 shocked – and touched – so many.
Group 1-winning trainers rub shoulders with those of rather smaller ambition. Champion jockeys stand next to those whose tallies are counted in the dozens rather than the hundreds.
High-ups from racecourses, charities, newspapers and television stations share pews – or a lawn – with those from the less glamorous end of their organisations.
Which is only right, for Tom was not one for hierarchies. As former trainer Paul Felgate recalls afterwards of post-race chats in the award-winning journalist’s Racing Post days: “I would think, ‘Why would he want to talk to me? I’ve only had a little winner, why would he be interested?’ But he really was.”
A feeling for his fellow man and woman is the theme of the homily delivered by Father Tim Bywater, who speaks of Tom’s “profound humanity and love of his neighbour”.
“Whatever the circumstances Tom knew just what to say and the best way of saying it,” he says. “It has been said of Tom that he always saw the best in people. And as we each remember Tom we can recognise what a great gift that is.”
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