This week’s funeral notice in both the New Zealand Herald and Christchurch Press summed up how much harness racing meant to 70-year-old John Devlin:
Devlin, John William (J. D.) passed away peacefully on New Zealand Cup Day (November 12), 2013 after a short illness.
Late in the advertisement it read:
“Keep backing winners Dad.”
But J.D. was more than just a punter; he was a man with extensive harness racing knowledge who boasted CV dating back four decades.
On August 31 the industry endorsed that when he won the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Harness Racing Award’ at the North Island Harness Racing Awards at Alexandra Park.
He said that was the pinnacle of 40-plus years in harness racing career.
“Winning the Great Northern Derby and this year’s Breeders Crown with Ideal Scott was my career highlight up until I was presented with that award.
“This beats them all. It means so much to be recognised by your peers. This beats everything I have achieved in harness racing,” J. D. said.
On July 4 J. D. was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
He knew that ceremony was one of the last opportunities for him to farewell his trotting buddies.
Back then J.D. said he didn’t want the doctor to tell him how long he had to live when informed he had incurable cancer of the pancreas and liver.
He said he didn’t fear dying because his Catholic faith had made him strong, and didn’t want to know when he was going to die.
“I’d rather not know. I just want to carry on and live each day to the fullest. I’m a man of faith and I have a ninth grandchild on the way. I still have plenty to live for,” J. D. said.
J. D. was a true Anzac. He was born in Brisbane and attended St Laurence’s College.
He came to New Zealand in 1963, and even though he supported Australia in sport, most of his family are Kiwis. He has two sons – Bradley a Kiwi, and Shane an Australian.
J. D. came to New Zealand with a few mates from the Gold Coast. They were on a working holiday.
“When I got here night trotting was relatively new and I took to it immediately. Four years after getting here I married a Kiwi and have remained here since,” J. D. said.
He then got a job writing for Ron Bisman and the Auckland Star. A renowned journalist J. D. later started South Auckland Bloodstock before being employed by Woodlands Stud.
He worked at Woodlands Stud doing promotions work virtually right up to his death.
He had a couple of Group Two galloping winners but Ideal Scott was the best horse he has owned.
His first horse was Sir Vance, whom he bought for $1,500 and sold for $100,000. He also had Auckland Cup starter, Riley.
J. D. was humbled by his North Island award and the amount of support he had received since his diagnosis.
His words at that function were rather pertinent.
“The support from the harness racing people in both Islands has been absolutely tremendous. They have been so wonderful.
“It is a fantastic industry to be involved in. To you all: I thank you so much for your kind words and gestures,” Devlin said.
A service to celebrate JD's life will be held on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, 1.30 p.m. at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 3 Carruth Road, Papatoetoe.
J. D. is the loved father and father-in-law of Shane and Melanie, Bradley and Aimee, Kylie and Mike. Loved brother of Stafford Devlin (Philippines) and Denise Devlin (Brisbane). Grandfather and great mate of Hannah, Josh, Jake, Martine, Holly, Olivia, Braydee, Taine and one to come. Also the former husband of Vianney.
Rest in Peace J.D. Thank-you for your interview in September. Forever inspired and never forgotten.
By Duane Ranger