By Brennan Ryan
For those who were very fortune to know him, Des Illingworth was simply a true gentleman.
He passed away recently leaving an amazing greyhound legacy in Tasmania.
Across almost a century, the locally-born Desmond Joseph Illingworth had witnessed the early beginnings of greyhound racing in Tasmania to seeing it become a professional, high-class industry.
He was born into a family that played a strong hand in shaping our great sport.
Born in Launceston in February, 1925, Des was the eldest of seven children to Oliver and Beryl.
Ollie was an inaugural member of the Launceston committee of seven that formed the White City Speed Coursing Club. The north-based club conducted Tassie’s first ever track meeting in February 1933.
In turn the family also prepared the initial winner of the Launceston Cup with Win Sheen.
Leaving school at 14, Des worked as a tailor at Paton and Baldwins then Morgan and Neil Pitts.
Upon marrying Audrey Bessell in April, 1947, the newly weds ventured to White City where and he recalled watching to two dog races, before Des borrowed his father’s car to head to Hobart for his honeymoon.
After RAAF service during World War II (joining at eighteen), Des began working in greyhounds in 1946 and would go on to hold many positions including as Chairman of Stewards, of Secretary of the National Coursing Club of Tasmania and Secretary of the Tasmanian Greyhound Racing Board.
From his St. John Street office in the Mercury Building, and with one staff member, Merridy Murgatroyd, Des Illingworth was the head of greyhound administration in Tasmania.
Under his care all namings, transfers, nominations and for the first time, grading for all three tracks, took place.
He was responsible for the establishment of a new rule book in both the 1970s and 1980s and also led the way in the transition of the State’s tracks surfaces from grass to sand as well as the implementation new lure systems.
Des, with Clem Hoggett’s assistance, was also integral in providing valuable national profile for Tasmanian greyhound racing by ensuring Sky Channel covered greyhound racing from the 1980s.
In the 1992 Australia Day honours Des Illingworth received The Order of Australia medal for his marvellous service to Tasmanian Greyhound Racing.
L.G.R.C introduced a new race in 1991 – the Illingworth Classic, which celebrated 30 years recently.
Having the attendance of Des on Illingworth Classic final night was a highlight. He always had a joke or two to tell and would have a well-prepared speech written – sometimes the same one left in his suit pocket from the previous year. There is a photo, taken with his grandchildren, on one of these nights, which remains absolutely priceless.
The attendance at Des’ funeral was touching and the photo tribute showed he lived a fantastic life.
His death ended a partnership with wife Audrey of 70 years. They had three children.
Forever more the Illingworth Classic will carry even more prestige, honouring the great Illingworth family.