SHEFFIELD recently lost two extraordinary characters in the space of five days whom in very different ways enriched the city and shone a light on the very best of human nature.
One a sporting icon, the other a former hospital worker and, happily, a fan of Sheffield United. Both with big hearts only too ready to share a wonderful inner gift with others.
Boxing’s Brendan Ingle died last month at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, aged 77, from a brain haemorrhage. Earlier in the same hospital Barbara Wragg, a truly remarkable woman, also 77, passed away.
The cathedral was packed to the rafters with famous names, friends, acquaintances and those who had never met Ingle but just wanted to pay their respects, as Sheffield said farewell to what is now a boxing legend.
A teenager from Dublin, Ingle made Sheffield his home in the late 1950s. A steelworker who went on to box professionally, he set up a gym a few strides from his Wincobank home which nurtured world champions, Prince Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson, Junior Witter and Clinton Woods. Another, Kell Brook, was encouraged and influenced by Ingle during his early years.
The trainer’s first big find was Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham who he guided to become European and British middleweight champion, titles he also held as a light-middleweight.
Ingle, a former professional fighter turned trainer became a national name for his work in a gym where he trained the four world champions, six European, 15 British and six Commonwealth champions. Most notably his moulding of Naseem from the age of seven to become World featherweight champion in 1995 and the biggest name in British boxing for many years.
Brook, the former IBF welterweight champion and current holder of the WBC Silver super-welterweight belt who trained with Ingle earlier in his career, said last year: “Brendan got me off the street and taught me life skills and I owe everything to him.”
Ingle’s eye for talent and tireless work in the gym made him a national name but it was his work with the community that really struck a chord with the Sheffield public and helped improve the lives of countless youngsters. The man, one of 15 brothers and sisters who despite his fame and fortune remained in his modest home in Wincobank, was asked by a local vicar to help run a youth club. Ingle’s natural ability to communicate with troubled and often violent youngsters changed the lives of hundreds of those who came to use the St Thomas’ Boys and Girls Club boxing gym.
Ingle was awarded an MBE in 1998 for his services and contributions to British boxing and for his work with young people in Sheffield.
Barbara Wragg, also 77, passed away in the same hospital and where she had worked for 22 years. Remarkably, along with husband Ray, both Blades fans, they gave away £5.5million of a £7.6m National Lottery win. Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the teenage cancer unit at Weston Park Hospital, Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice, Make a Wish Foundation, Whirlow Hall Farm Trust, Meningitis Trust and Age Concern are among the many beneficiaries.
As well as making a huge impact on the local area, their generosity has also stretched far and wide. They paid for 50 war heroes to visit Italy for the 60th anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino in 2004 after funding fell short.
Every year they footed the bill for 250 local children from a deprived inner city school to enjoy Sheffield’s Christmas pantomime. The first of many cheque’s written since winning the National Lottery in 2000 was to Sheffield Hallamshire Hospital to pay for a bladder scanner in the ward where Barbara had worked.
The Jordanthorpe couple moved to Whirlow to fulfil Barbara’s dream of owning a home with bay windows. But the upmarket switch didn’t alter their perspective on life.
“We'd like to say we made a lot of people happy with what we've been able to do to donate to a lot of charities,” said husband Ray Wragg, a retired roofer. “Winning the lottery changed our lives but not our persons.”
Married for 56 years he added: “She said what we have got to do with this is to help a lot of people and that is what we did. We enjoyed every bit of it and we made a lot of people happy.”
Sheffield is a much better place for the influences of Brendan Ingle and Barbara Wragg, along with her surviving husband Ray. Rare gems in a troubled world and an example to all. Shining a light on humanity and a generosity of spirit to the benefit of others.
Reight good ’uns in the truest sense.