UK Backgammon sadly lost one of its much-loved characters to Coronavirus this week. Over several decades, George Devlin played backgammon in many parts of the world including the RAC and other London clubs and, more recently, at the 2019 Bristol Open, where he was the Warm-Up finalist. He passed away, aged 78, on Monday 20th April in Nyon, Switzerland. An online service for his family (including his nine children and nine grandchildren) is being held in Nyon today (St George’s Day!!). Once the world ‘opens back up’ there will be a memorial celebration of George’s life for all his friends.
Edward Leighton, who knew George well, kindly sent us the following tribute to his friend:
I first met George at Christmas 1991 on the beach in Juan-les-Pins. George was with his wife, Laura, and their 6 week old baby Natasha and we were with my eldest son Alex who was then 3 months old. We were the only two families on the Richelieu beach that Christmas and quickly became firm friends.
Backgammon soon became an integral part of the relationship and for many subsequent Easters and Summers we would meet on the same beach to socialise, drink copious amounts of Chateau Minuty, a disproportionate amount of which George insisted on putting on his tab, eat wonderful food and play backgammon. The backgammon was always for small stakes but nobody really played for the money – we were all there for the craic, the laughter and the sheer enjoyment which was guaranteed when George was part of the chouette. On many an evening we would be the last people to leave the beach – to the disgust of the plagistes – so it was a good thing that the owner himself was a player! I still remember increasingly irate phone calls from wives who had been told for at least 30 minutes that the offending spouse was “on his way back but must have got held up” – not really believable when the apartments were a 3 minute walk away!
For some years we both played in some of the French tournaments and one of my happiest backgammon memories is reaching the Final of the Cannes doubles tournament with him in 2009. There was another great outing when several London players including George made the journey to Juan-les-Pins for the tournament in the Garden Beach hotel. The fact that we scarcely won a match between us did not diminish the enjoyment of the trip. There were of course several tournaments where George emerged victorious, most notably the Intermediate World Championship in Monte Carlo some years ago.
Over the years we regularly saw each other whenever George was in London which was sadly not too often due to him being based in the UK in Bristol and having numerous other properties all over the world. He was great company, a wonderful raconteur and always a very welcome participant in the RAC chouettes I organised, but above all he was a true and deeply trusted friend who would always be ready to provide wise counsel and his time when circumstances required.
He was immensely successful in his professional life but retained an air of modesty which was charming and old-fashioned. He had some memorable stories of his business life which I loved to hear – especially the one where he assumed a very plausible Israeli accent – George could deliver a punchline better than any comedian!
All of his many children gave him immense pleasure and he was a very proud father. His five youngest children attended Clifton College in Bristol where I was also a pupil many years previously and George selflessly bought a magnificent house on the edge of the school playing fields so that he could spend weekends with them in term time. Last year I was leafing through the “Old Cliftonian” magazine when I noticed that his youngest son, Eamon, had been Head Boy in his final year. I texted George to congratulate him. “I am very proud of him” came the understated reply.
I too am very proud to have been able to have had George Devlin as a close friend for so many years. Even at this awful time I can hear his laughter and see his smile. I will miss him immensely, as will so many.
Edward M. Leighton