Remembering a true champion: Jean O’Grady
Christmas can be a tough time of year if you miss your loved ones. This one will certainly be a tough one as former world lightweight champion Sean O’Grady had to say goodbye to his dear mother, Jean, who passed suddenly on Dec. 23. In many ways, Jean was a pioneer in the sport of boxing and worked very hard in an industry predominantly ruled by men. She worked in all aspects of the game and understood boxing very well and without a doubt, her proudest moment in boxing would be watching her son become a world champion.
Jean O’Grady was the wife of Pat O’Grady, himself a former professional fighter. As long as Sean can recall, his dad and Mom worked in boxing. She worked in media, promotions, matchmaking, training and every other aspect of promoting boxing cards all over the south for three decades. The family was based out of Oklahoma City but would travel each and every weekend putting on fights in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada, and Nebraska. Jean was well-schooled on every aspect of the sport and was involved in running club shows every month while her husband was the promoter of record. Jean was on board in every aspect of the game and got the job done.
While it was not unheard of at the time for women to be involved in boxing promotions, Jean was certainly as knowledgeable as any boxing person in terms of understanding the sport and the job of promoting live boxing shows.
Sean O’Grady turned pro at age 15 in 1975. Six years later, in his second title try, he captured the WBA lightweight title in April of 1981, upsetting undefeated, Detroit-based champion Hilmer Kenty. The talented Kenty was certainly the favourite entering the bout as he was the first world champion of legendary Motor City trainer Emanuel Steward. But O’Grady upset the odds and walked out of Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City with a 15-round decision win and the world championship belt around his waist.
O’Grady always credited his mother, as much as anyone, for the role she played in promoting boxing in the south and certainly in his own career. In a conversation a couple of years ago with writer Brian D’Ambrosio, O’Grady said of his mother, “In reality, it was Mother who made me champion. She had such an influence and really built my career and handled the media. [Both parents] worked hard for my career.”
Top Rank Promotions matchmaker Bruce Trampler summed up Mrs. O’Grady thusly, “She was a great lady and a real, old-time fight person. There will never be another like her. The children she produced are her legacy. They had a champion mom.” Adding Zanfer Promotions matchmaker Sean Gibbons, “People don’t know the impact ‘Mrs. O’ made. She was a pioneer in the promotion business and ran the day-to-day operations for Pat O’Grady. She was the real person who did it all. Sean, along with his sisters, Rosie and Colleen will really miss their dear mother.”
On learning of his mother’s passing, Sean O’Grady said, “My inspiration, my cheerleader, my promoter, my manager, my publicist, my confidant and my best friend. I remember well whenever she would wake me at 5:30 for roadwork and join me for my morning run. She pushed me, pulled me and taught me so much….including how to be a world champion.”
Gone but never forgotten.
Rest in Peace, champ!