F1 star Eddie Irvine in emotional tribute to Ian Adamson - the man who got him to his first race in Europe
Former Formula One ace Eddie Irvine has talked emotionally of the huge debt of gratitude he owes to his friend - and first ever sponsor - Dr Ian Adamson, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast, who died earlier this week.
Dr Adamson passed away on Wednesday - only days after the ex-motor racing star had visited him at his home.
"I didn't think I was saying goodbye," admitted Irvine, in a transatlantic phone call before flying back to Northern Ireland for the 74-year-old Ulster Unionist politician's funeral on Monday morning.
"I knew he'd been ill, but I thought that he was getting better. The first day I went to see him over Christmas he wasn't great. But a few days later there was a definite improvement.
"It was a terrible shock to hear from Ian's wife Kerry that he had taken a turn for the worse.
"My father later contacted me here in Miami to tell me that he'd passed. It's been very upsetting for me and indeed all of our family."
Irvine said the death would have also come as a major blow to Dr Adamson's friend Van Morrison, who was a regular guest at the Irvines' dinner table with the former east Belfast MLA and his wife Kerry.
Dr Adamson has always said that the motor-racer-turned-businessman parents Edmund senior and Kathleen were his closest friends.
But Irvine, who like Dr Adamson was raised in the tiny Co Down village of Conlig, said: "Ian was a fantastic friend to everyone in our family, including my daughter Zoe and her mother Maria."
Community groups in Conlig also praised Dr Adamson yesterday. Several officials said Belfast's former first citizen never lost his affection for the village, and said his humour and generosity would be sorely missed.
Irvine agreed, adding: "He was a truly remarkable man. He knew so much about so many things and he spread a lot of good. He taught me a lot. And he taught Van a lot too."
Irvine confirmed that the career of Conlig's most famous sporting son was kick-started by the financial backing of Dr Adamson, its most prominent politician. As the youthful and ambitious Irvine set out on his journey in racing, Dr Adamson offered to sponsor him.
Irvine said: "He was my first sponsor and I will always be grateful to him for helping me to get to my first race in Europe."
It was a link with another of North Down's most celebrated figures that played a role in Dr Adamson steering Irvine (right)onto the road to success.
Dr Adamson, who was a prolific writer as well as a medic, linguist, historian and politician, not only published books in his own name but also gave a platform to other aspiring authors.
One of the books which came out under the imprint of Dr Adamson's Pretani Press was written by Patrick Marrinan about the legendary Newtownards SAS man and Irish rugby international Blair Mayne.
And Dr Adamson used the proceeds to sponsor "my young friend, Edmund (Eddie)" who never looked back.
"I couldn't have done it without Ian. He was very kind and he knew we were struggling," said Irvine, who laughed at the very notion that Dr Adamson was a petrol head.
"In all the time that I knew him we never talked about motor racing, not even once.
"We just discussed Irish history, Ulster Scots, everything but racing.
"He had an amazing brain and an incredible recall. He was like an encyclopaedia of history, with an astonishing memory.
"Van's memory is also razor-sharp.
"It was always funny to listen to the two of them over dinner and to appreciate the strong recalls that these two older guys had compared to me." For Irvine, the wheel of history was to turn full circle after Dr Adamson introduced him to the story of the colourful Blair Mayne. Because Irvine later helped to produce - and also narrated - a TV documentary about Mayne.
"And that was all down to Ian's influence," he added.
Even though they may not have chewed the fat about motor racing, Dr Adamson still followed Irvine's progress closely and wrote proudly about his unstoppable rise to fame in his online blog.
He faithfully charted Irvine's moves from Formula Ford to Formula Three and then Formula 3000 before he signed for Eddie Jordan's Formula 1 team in 1993 and scored a point with a sixth place finish in his debut race at Suzuka in Japan.
What Dr Adamson didn't record was the angry row that took place after the race when the late three time champion Ayrton Senna confronted Irvine because he hadn't given way as he tried to overtake him.
"What the f*** do you think you were doing?" asked Senna.
"I was racing," replied the nonplussed Irvine.
Dr Adamson contented himself with describing his fellow Conlig man as "highly competitive and often controversial".
He rued the fact that Irvine, who at one time raced for Ferrari along with Michael Schumacher, would have won the F1 title if the current points system had been employed back then.
"He came within a whisker of becoming the champion," Dr Adamson wrote, and it was clear from his blog that his friendship with Irvine's parents never faded.
He took great pleasure in posting a series of pictures from their 50th wedding anniversary, which the politician and his wife Kerry attended.
Dr Adamson clearly admired Eddie Irvine and reminisced fondly about the day he took him to fulfil an engagement as guest speaker at the Ulster Reform Club in the heart of Belfast, where he was interviewed by the BBC's Jim Neilly.
Dr Adamson also spoke highly of Irvine after his retirement from the racing circuit, praising him for becoming a wealthy property developer and businessman.
Dr Adamson's funeral is to be held in Conlig Presbyterian Church on Monday morning before a burial at Roselawn cemetery.
It is not clear if Van Morrison will be in attendance.
A huge number of politicians from all parties here are expected to be present.
Representatives of the Somme Association, who set up the Somme Heritage Museum with the help of Dr Adamson in his beloved Conlig, will also be there, along with associates from the Ulster Scots movement and the Ullans Academy that he founded.