Gerald Dempsey

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KNOWN as Gerald to his family and as Eric to others, Gerald Eric Dempsey – who has died age 89 – was partner in the York law firm Hetherton and Dempsey and bred racehorses with considerable success at the Farlington Bridge Stud near Sheriff Hutton, North Yorkshire.

The Dempsey family – mother, father and three boys, he being in the middle – moved to Harrogate from their home in Walthamstow soon after the outbreak of the war.

Excellent cricketers, he and his elder brother Denis both played for Essex Boys, his brother a bowler and he a batsman.

He once captained a side which included Doug Insole, who went on to play Test cricket and later became an England selector and chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board. On this occasion the wicketkeeper suffered an injury and Mr Dempsey asked Doug to take over the gloves. When he refused, his captain promptly ordered him off the field - an indication of the steely side of his character.

After his father, a civil servant, was transferred to Harrogate, he went to Harrogate Grammar School and to his considerable surprise as a Londoner, was asked to captain the school cricket team.

It was in Harrogate that he met Lorna Worfolk, and in 1950 the couple married.

Following in the footsteps of his father who flew with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, he joined the RAF and served as a navigator with the Mosquito Squadron of Coastal Command.

One of his RAF colleagues was also called Gerald, and to avoid confusion he decided to use his second name, Eric. From then on he was generally known to his friends and acquaintances by that name.

Before demobilisation he was for a time RAF passenger and freight officer at Prestwick civil airport in Scotland.

The Dempsey family moved to Newcastle after the war and he completed an arts degree at St Andrew’s University, then studying law at Durham University.

Qualifying as a solicitor, he first practised in Newcastle then moved to York where he and Noel Hetherton founded a practice in Castlegate.

Both partners shared a keen interest in horse racing.

Mr Hetherton had horses in training with Bill Elsey at Malton and enjoyed notable successes at Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival with Tantivy and Past Glories respectively.

Meanwhile Mr Dempsey set up the Farlington Bridge Stud in partnership with Norman Fishwick who was landlord of the local pub, the Blackmith’s Arms - now run by Simon Lorimer, son of Leeds United legend Peter Lorimer.

They bought two mares, Grovenka and Sambell, at Doncaster Sales for an outlay of £800.

Their first success came in 1979 when Grovenka’s first foal at the stud - Midnight Rover - won a handicap at Newmarket.

Grovenka’s next foal, Sandra’s Secret, notched up five wins in 1980 including a victory at the York Ebor meeting. In her final win at Warwick she was ridden by Lester Piggott.

Further success came via Sambell who produced Sammy Waters (winner of two races in 1981 at Pontefract and York) and also House Hunter (winner of seven races including the Brighton Challenge Cup in 1985) and Sound Work (winner of three races).

As an owner, Mr Dempsey had many winners, mostly in partnership, and latterly he had horses trained by Tim Walford at Sheriff Hutton. He also had success as a member of the Highclere syndicate based at the mansion near Newbury which is best known these days as the setting for Downton Abbey.

The high point of his association with Highclere was as a member of the syndicate which owned Petrushka, trained at Newmarket by Sir Michael Stoute. She was named champion filly of Europe in 2000 after successive victories in the Irish Oaks, the Yorkshire Oaks and the Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp, ridden each time by the Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh.

Mr Dempsey, a tall, distinguished figure, lived life to the full and had a fund of entertaining anecdotes. He travelled widely at home and abroad including trips to the USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, Japan, India, Kashmir, Malaysia, Bali, Egypt, Dubai, Sarawak and Singapore.

For more than 20 years he lived in Easingwold.

His wife died in 1997 and he is survived by their two sons, Ian and Derek, their daughter Ruth, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren and his younger brother Rex.