Well-known racing commentator Jimmy Lithgow died on Friday morning of a heart attack. He would have turned 68 on 16 November.
Jimmy was a most charming man, one with integrity and kindness. His formidable command of the English language, in writing or on the air, helped him paint vivid pictures that stuck with his audience for months afterwards; delivered on TV and radio with a rich, unhurried preciseness. He loved life and lived expansively and dramatically, embracing every aspect with joy and dry humour. He will be missed.
He and his wife Elaine, who runs a guest house on the Vaal river, spent Thursday night with their son Aiden in Johannesburg. Although he had diabetes and a liver complaint, Lithgow had both conditions under control but Aiden said he complained on Thursday evening that he wasn't feeling well.
"He woke the household early on Friday morning with chest pains and pain in his arms. Mum and I sped him to hospital but just before we arrived there, he shouted that he couldn't see, gasped and slumped in the seat. Hospital staff tried to revive him but he was gone," said Aiden.
Jimmy became interested in horseracing at a young age. His grandmother was a huge racing fan and his mother rode horses over weekends. When he was a teenager his parents bought a horse, which increased his interest, and much later he met and married Elaine, daughter to legendary trainer Les Rathbone and his wife Tilly, and that cemented his passion.
After school and national service, Lithgow got a BA majoring in English and the History of Art and he then spent a few months travelling round England and Europe. On his return he found a job with SAA in their PR department, starting off researching the history of flight in South Africa and staying with the company for 12 years. That started his career in print media and his biline has appeared in many newspapers and other publications down the years.
He was recruited into horseracing by former Turffontein chief executive Sandy Christy and, apart from a short hiatus running his own events company, he worked in the industry ever since, moving on to become marketing manager at Newmarket, then Durban Turf Club and for Highveld Racing.
His work gave him an outlet for his other passion, theatre. He acted in several school plays and went on to tread the boards in a few professional productions. He produced radio plays for Springbok Radio and SA FM, as well as presenting and producing many horseracing shows for TV and radio. In the last 15 years Lithgow has been a regular presenter and producer on racing's dedicated television channel Tellytrack (DStv channel 239), winning an Equus Media Award in 2013.
He leaves his wife of 40 years Elaine, sons Aiden and Jonathan and grandchildren Katherine and nine-month old Matthew.
Said Aiden sadly: "He hadn't met Matthew yet. Dad was planning on flying down to meet him next week."
Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalised.
Extract from Tab News