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He adored fine food, but shed five stone because he longed to see his grandchildren grow up

Derek was always good company. Una Brankin recalls the last time they dined together

Published 14/05/2015

Derek after he undertook a dramatic slimming programme
Derek after he undertook a dramatic slimming programme
Derek in typical bon viveur mode
Ronald Reagan with Belfast born RTE broadcaster Derek Davis

Derek Davis was still his familiar portly self the last time we had lunch in Dublin, and full of entertaining - and sometimes scandalous - stories about his broadcasting days in Belfast and Dublin.

A great raconteur, he had exceptional recall for detail and a rich, warm delivery which could hold the listener's attention till the cows came home. He took his last breath yesterday morning, after suffering a stroke on Monday. The day before he'd done an interview on RTE radio with veteran broadcaster Marian Finucane about his recent five stone weight loss following gastric surgery last July, and had complained of feeling unwell after the live broadcast.

When I met him last, before his operation, he was in fine fettle despite having regular dialysis for diabetes. He loved the fish and foie gras in Michelin-starred l'Ecrivain, one of his favourite restaurants in Dublin, but he resisted the desserts that day and opted for water rather than wine due to the medication he was on.

We'd met previously at a foodie function in the same restaurant. Derek shared a passion for sailing with proprietor Derry Clarke, and kept a boat in Kinsale. His love of the sea began in his childhood in Bangor, where he was brought up to clear his butter-laden plate by his Catholic mother from Bray, Co Wicklow, and his Protestant father.

At 11 years of age he was 12 stone, and he remained technically obese for the rest of his life until the gastric surgery last year. As he was tall and broad-shouldered, however, he carried his girth quite well, his plump cheeks never seeming to age, and he had a good healthy colour from sailing. I told him he should write a memoir; he said he'd rather write a newspaper or magazine column.

"Now if you could get me one of those..." he said wistfully. It was obvious he missed his formerly active role in the media. His last regular slot was a foodie show on Dublin's 4FM on Sunday mornings, which he loved. He was dropped without warning about three years ago - along with most of the station's part-time presenters - in a budgeting cull.

Since then he'd focused on public relations work for marine-based food companies such as Blue Haven in Kinsale and Morgan's Fine Fish in Omeath. He grins down from posters on the walls of the renowned fishmongers near Carlingford, a gourmet Captain Birdseye minus the beard, in his sea duds and Greek fisherman's cap.

He was rarely more content than when he was at sea, although his grandchildren brought him much happiness. He dearly wanted to see them grow up, which was part of the reason behind his gastric surgery.

On one of the last occasions we spoke on the phone I asked Derek to name his favourite poem for a feature in this newspaper. He chose The Oxen, Thomas Hardy's lament for youth. "At 18, this poem meant nothing to me; in my 60s, it breaks my heart," he said, a big softie under his urbane persona.

He'll be missed.

Belfast Telegraph

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