One of racing most heroic supporters was cremated at Bierton, near Aylesbury, yesterday. Ivan Newton Edwards was 66 when he died last month, after 45 years as a tetraplegic following a car crash, from which the other three lads walked away.
It was about as dirty a deal as fate could inflict on anyone but Ivan did not complain. His extraordinary achievement was thanks to his own indomitable will, the quite astonishing team at Stoke Mandeville, his wonderful group of carers, and racing. For with racing as an interest, every morning offered a daily battle of hope against expectation. Of opinions to be formed, risks to be taken and results to ponder. Yes, Ivan loved a bet.
Few thought he would live when he got to Tonbridge hospital that first night, but at Stoke Mandeville his spirit would not be bowed and eventually he became magnificently mobile, operating his wheelchair by his chin. He became a familiar sight around the town, popping out from his bungalow to chat to people and of course to visit the betting shop.
I first met him on July 12th 1981 at the famous ‘celebrity’ show jumping event at Ascot in aid of the Stoke Mandeville Appeal in which Prince Charles jumped a clear round, and all three Jockey Club starters hit the deck with drink taken. After that any jockey unfortunate enough to land in the spinal unit would have Ivan as an inspirational visitor. I remember arranging to meet him at the hospital for one such visit and was amazed to see his wheel chair come sailing up the hill with Ivan’s smile as warm as the weather.
Travelling further afield was difficult but not impossible, and he managed memorable trips to Newmarket, Cheltenham and Ascot as well as going to Lambourn, Manton and Newmarket. Peter Walwyn was a wonderful supporter as was George Baker in more recent times. Courses were very generous and in 2011, as the picture shows, Ivan achieved a lifetime ambition of going to Royal Ascot in full morning suit and topper That same year he was at Newmarket for the July Cup. He had become a great Hayley Turner fan so imagine the thrill when Dream Ahead sluiced home for Hayley at 10-1.
As you also can see, Ivan operated everything off his chin and in his bungalow he could work the cursor up and down his screen to call up individual telephone numbers. On the list he had both me and his bookmaker. The joke always was that sometimes he would ring them in the wrong order.
Things have not been so easy in the last couple of years but on Saturday mornings the calls would still come and the familiar slightly breathless, ever hopeful voice would say “have you heard anything?” Poor Ivan, I must have given him hundreds of ‘stumers’ but for once we got things right last month when Lord North and Frankie won the Cambridgeshire and the call on the way home was one of congratulation not commiseration.
As luck would have it, I dropped round to see him three weeks ago this Tuesday. He was not in great shape and his hearing was bad but he was still eager to talk about horses for Champions Day at the weekend. Two days later the paramedics were called in the middle of the night and in the afternoon Ivan’s brother Eric and I were sitting in the now empty bungalow thinking back in wonderment at how Ivan had survived so long.
Heroism comes in many forms but 45 years operating with your chin and still looking forward to backing a winner on Saturday sets an impossible standard. The sun was setting as we left the bungalow and three red kites circled above sending the clearest of message. Ivan had backed his final winner and was free at last. What a man.