He might have been a popular television presenter and New Zealand's top golfing journalist but Philip Leishman, who passed away overnight (February 25), was also a harness racing pioneer in New Zealand.
Leishman, a 2011 recipient of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Broadcasting, underwent brain surgery in Auckland after a tumour was discovered in late February 2012. The operation was a success but the cancer recently returned.
He was 61.
Leishman was mostly renown for fronting One World Of Sport, 1,250 episodes of Wheel of Fortune, and latterly The Golfing Show - all from the late 1970s to 2012. He also fronted the 1981 Commonwealth Games, a Miss New Zealand contest, the New Zealand Cricket Awards, travel shows, and was also a popular radio host.
Leishman worked on Turf Talk with Glynn Tucker in the mid to late 1970s but the harness racing fraternity will always remember Timaru-born Leishman as a trotting icon of the 1970s and 1980s who changed the face of broadcasting of our great sport.
New Zealand harness racing identity, John May worked with Leishman during the 1970s and 1980s and made Harnesslink aware of how much of a harness racing pioneer Leishman was in NZ.
"To hear of his death today was a body-blow! This is a huge loss to broadcasting in New Zealand. Phillip and I worked closely for years and he was the person that broke new ground for harness racing in New Zealand. He was definitely a pioneer.
"He changed the face of the Interdominion Championship and how it was covered here. Previously we just replayed the heats but Phil persuaded the bosses at TVNZ to run a 6pm to 10.30pm live show with documentaries and stories that he had prepared," May said.
May did expert comments for that 1983 Championship at Alexandra Park and they teamed up again four years later at Addington Raceway.
Leishman fronted and presented the Interdominion coverage while May did expert comments and Barry Holland did the post-race interviews.
May said Leishman loved harness racing and owned both trotters and gallopers - but sadly no champions. One of his trainers was Cambridge legend Charlie Hunter.
"You can't often say that some people are irreplaceable at what they do. But in Phil's case he was definitely irreplaceable. He was an icon and today is a very sad day," May said.
New Zealand Breakfast present Peter Williams also paid tribute to his friend and colleague on air this morning.
Williams said he got his break in the industry in 1979, filling a sports reporter vacancy left when Leishman went on his OE that year. Since then he had worked with him at the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and golf tournaments.
"There was always an element of show business about Phil," Williams said on Breakfast.
"He was a fabulous guy, always friendly. What you got on air is what you get off air, which is a sign of a great guy."
Leishman was married to Michelle and they had three children - Harry, India, and Lily.
He attended St Patrick's High School, now named Roncalli College, in Timaru.
His brother Mark, also a popular New Zealand broadcaster, said Phillip was the top try scorer for the First XV and he still holds the 100 yards record. That was in 1969.
He said his brother died peacefully with his family around him.
Leishman will be farewelled at a service at St Patrick's Cathedral in Auckland at 1.30pm on Friday.
By Duane RANGER (friend)
Screen talk with Phillip Leishman (December 2012):