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Sunday 4 November 2007

It is the mischief and laughter that I'll miss most about Tony

Ruth Dudley Edwards recalls her friend, the charming, immensely clever and formidably energetic Anthony Clare

The last time I saw Tony Clare was six years ago, at the funeral of my ex-husband, Patrick Cosgrave, when he gave the eulogy. Tony had already gone into the state of virtual reclusion that lasted for the rest of his life. He saw his patients, but his friends saw little or nothing of him.

In speaking of Patrick, Tony was, of course, eloquent, but his tone was sombre and I can remember none of the lightning wit, the liveliness and the bubbling sense of fun that his friends used to so cherish. He left immediately the service ended.

Eight years earlier, he and I had walked through Cahirciveen behind the coffin of our dear friend Liam Hourican, angry and desolate at his death but finding things to laugh at. We drew considerable amusement from the sight of six middle-aged, mostly over-weight men (John Hume and Ronan Fanning among them) struggling to keep Liam's coffin from crashing off their shoulders. I enquired when Tony was going to offer to help out. "They may be mad," he said. "I'm not. I don't want to get a heart attack."

They're not wearing too well, my beloved male friends from UCD. Liam died at 49, Patrick at 59 and Tony, slight and fast-moving, who unlike them was fit and had no bad habits in the food, drink or tobacco departments, had the heart attack at 64.

At UCD, Jane Hogan and I were Tony's and Patrick's camp-followers (and later wives), accompanying them to many of the competitive debates that that brilliant pair almost always won. Jane couldn't make it the time they lost the Observer Mace in Scotland (they won the following year). Afterwards, the three of us cheered ourselves up by dancing hand-in-hand down the street singing the Johnny Ray song, "I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter", with Tony and me laughing hysterically at Patrick's inability to carry a tune and his loud insistence that he could.

I remember with great vividness the sessions at the DNB cake shop, where I would listen respectfully as Tony and Patrick discussed how to treat the motion for the next debating competition. Patrick would take the role of the rational Burkean orator, Tony would make people laugh, or tug their heartstrings. I can still recall him demolishing the opposition with the sheer throbbing emotion of his defence of bingo. We laughed about it at the time -- jeering at him for being a ham -- but of course in retrospect -- as he spoke movingly of trapped women who needed some spark of pleasure in their lives -- one sees the imagination, intuition and kindness that would make him such a fine psychiatrist and public interviewer. His mantra was that the psychiatrist's job was to listen properly and put the patient first.

At UCD, we knew Tony was charming, immensely clever, a great life-enhancer and formidably energetic, but we had no idea then how astonishingly multi-talented he was.

The natural controversialist and iconoclast would reach the top of his profession and prove himself also as a distinguished medical scholar, a fine and sensitive manager of people and thinking radio's favourite interviewer. But he proved too to be a fine and fluent writer.

A recurring memory is of arriving at the Clare household to the sound of Tony typing furiously, before rushing out of his study to begin cooking. He never seemed to be still: his whole being seemed suffused with nervous energy. He enjoyed the limelight, but he wore fame lightly and with self-mockery.

I was dubious about his and Jane's decision to move back to Dublin in the late 1980s, uttering gloomy prophesies about how he would be torn apart by the envious. And so he was. I spent a long evening with him when he was reeling at the panning his RTE series had been given and trying to understand why so many commentators seemed to hate him. But, being Tony, he bounced back, deciding to run for the Senate as a social reformer and make a difference to Irish life.

I had always thought him naïve about Irish politics -- his asking me to be one of his proposers was proof of that -- and of course he lost. NUI graduates could have voted to the Senate a gifted and courageous man who would have been a giant of independent thought in the mould of John A. Murphy, but he was too big for them.

Voluble and open though he seemed, and much though his friends loved him, there was something unknowable about Tony. Could even an interviewer of his calibre have found out what really went on in that head, what drove that person who cared for his family, taught his students, helped his patients, encouraged his staff, managed his units, wrote prolifically, dashed from studio to plane, jiggled with impatience at the waste of a minute and generally lived life at a frenetic pace until he withdrew from public view?

Some of those who tried complained bitterly about his evasiveness. In a phrase he used once of a mutual friend who was refusing to admit he was an alcoholic, Tony 'was well-defended'.

He was an astonishing man of extraordinary achievement and we were proud of him. But it is the mischief and the laughter I miss most.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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