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Phillip Leishman remembered as a 'great man'

Published: 5:16AM Tuesday February 26, 2013 Source: ONE News

Tributes are flowing for one of New Zealand's most enduring television presenters, Phillip Leishman, who has died at the age of 61.

Leishman died last night with family and friends at his bedside.

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He had a brain tumour operated on in March last year and it was hoped he would recover. However, he fell seriously ill last week.

He leaves behind his wife Michelle and children Harry, India and Lily.

Head of TV ONE and TV2 Jeff Latch said the death was "sad news".

"Those of us who had the personal and professional privilege of working with Phil will be feeling his loss. Our thoughts and condolences go to Michelle, Harry, India and Lily."

He said Leishman was an "extraordinarily gifted presenter and broadcaster" who was "a favourite with viewers and much respected by his industry peers".

"Phil had a unique ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds and he was able to effortlessly build rapport with live and onscreen audiences."

Latch said Leishman was versatile during his career and showed a lighter touch as the host of Wheel of Fortune.

ONE News presenter Peter Williams paid tribute to Leishman this morning saying: "He was a fabulous guy, always friendly, and what you saw on air was what he was off air too, which is really the mark of a great man and a great broadcaster."

Williams said there was always the "element of showbiz" about Leishman.

"There was always that element of flashiness and real style about Phillip, which is what we loved about him.

"He wasn't your sort of bloke who would be down the pub or down the footy club on Saturday night, even though he enjoyed playing rugby as a young man and apparently he maintains he still has the record for the most tries for the Marist St Pats under 19s or under 20s.

"So he was a very enthusiastic sportsman and loved to indulge in sport on the air and off the air, but as I say there was more to him than just the straight presenting of sports news in the way that we knew it in those days and he was always for something just a little flasher.

"It was no surprise at all as his colleagues in the sport department that he moved off into doing things like Wheel of Fortune and then extraordinarily the Miss New Zealand contest one year."

Williams recalled being at the Masters in Augusta with Leishman on his 56th birthday.

He said the day after the tournament finished there is this "great lolly scramble" for a place in the media tournament on Monday.

"By sheer coincidence, or possibly with knowing somebody in higher places I couldn't possibly comment, we were both drawn from the barrel that day and on Phillip's birthday in 2007 we got to play Augusta National, and that was one of the great thrills of my life and it was one of the great thrills of Phillip's life.

Sad day

Another longtime colleague, Keith Quinn said it is a very sad day.

He said Leishman was friendly to everyone, and lived by his own quote "listen you guys it's not what you say on TV it's how you look".

"You never saw Phillip on TV looking anything less the impeccably turned out".

In 1976 a sound link from Montreal failed so Leishman provided commentary on the opening ceremony after his colleague, Keith Quinn who was in Canada, had done all the research.

Quinn said he was told by a producer that he must dictate all of his six months worth of research into the ear piece of Leishman in the studio in Wellington and he would put it out on the air.

"I remember I was so angry afterwards I went back to the hotel room I was staying in and I kicked out in anger at a coffee table and I limped for the first three of four days around the Olympic Games.

"I never told Phillip about that. But Phillip dined out on that story for many years and always claimed he had it over me for wonderful research. We really enjoyed it."

Top golfer Phil Tataurangi told TV ONE's Breakfast Leishman was a good friend, who he respected.

He said Leishman did a fantastic job of popularising golf to the masses.

Tataurangi said he had a lot of courage to get access to interview some of the top golfers, including Tiger Woods.

Leishman's career

Leishman first appeared on New Zealand's screens on Dunedin's regional station DNTV2's news in 1971 before moving to Television New Zealand.

His profile in sports broadcasting gathered pace when a last minute technical glitch saw him hosting a live broadcast of the 1976 Montreal Olympics opening ceremony.

Fellow broadcaster Keith Quinn said he had done all the research prior to the games but it was Leishman who ended up hosting the sporting event.

"He got praise from the North Cape to the Bluff for this wonderful presentation he had done...and of course he dined out on that for years," said Quinn.

"He got all the praise, I did all the work and got none.  He never really let me forget that."

Leishman then branched out into entertainment programming to host the iconic Kiwi game show Wheel of Fortune alongside Lana Cocroft.

He was hosting the show when boxer David Tua famously appeared to ask for the letter "O for awesome".

Leishman also dabbled in entertainment presenting for the travel show show Air New Zealand Holiday and hosted Miss New Zealand in 1992.

After leaving TVNZ in the late 1990s, he set up his own production company where he specialised in making golf programmes.

He interviewed some of the game's most famous players including Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and Michael Campbell.

In 2011, he was made an Officer of the New Zealand order of Merit for his services in broadcasting and the community. 

His brother Mark Leishman is also a well-known television presenter.