Leo Close OBE #3
Father Leo Close is born in Drumcondra in 1934, in Dublin. Aged 23 while a young seminarian, Leo Close fell off a 60 foot bridge and broke 3 vertebrae that left him paralysed from the waist down. It also nearly ended his hope of becoming a priest, but he received permission to do so from Pope John becoming in 1959 the first priest to be ordained in a wheelchair.
Father Close co-founded the Irish Wheelchair Association.
Leo Close represented Ireland in the International Paraplegic Games in 1957, 1961, 1962 and 1963. He also competed at the first two Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960 and in Tokyo in 1964, representing Ireland.
When he moved to New Zealand in 1964, Leo strongly contributed to the creation of the national Paralympic Movement. He was one of the Otago delegates when Paralympics New Zealand was created in 1968.
A talented athlete, Leo was selected to be part of the first New Zealand Paralympic Team and competed at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games in Para athletics. He went onto represent New Zealand again at the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games. Leo competed across a range of events, including shot put, javelin and discus. See Leo’s results on paralympic.org.
In the 1975 New Year Honours, Close was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for services to the paraplegic movement.
Close was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1976 and died in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 18 January 1977 at the age of 42. Father Close never let his disability intrude on his cheerful manner. He was a popular figure in Dunedin and provided an inspiration to others.