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Owen Byrne on joining the Johnian Society Committee

Posted on Feb 2

3 min read

Johnian Society News & Events

Whilst at St John’s Owen Byrne (1998) read Classics for two years before a final year switch to History and was an active member of LMBC. After graduation he worked in the regulatory side of horseracing for 8 years before a career change to law. He is a private client, tax and trusts solicitor and partner at BDB Pitmans, working between London and Cambridge. He joined the Johnian Society Committee last month and here tells us about his reasons for serving on the committee.

After leaving St John’s you spent some time working in communications relating to horse-racing, how did that prepare you for your subsequent career in law?

It was an easier switch than it sounds going from horseracing to law! I was working for six directors and that was good practice for working for six partners. I was translating racing’s rule book into plain English for journalists and the public alike, and I now translate law into plain English for clients. I was summarising the outcome of racing’s disciplinary cases, getting to the key points – sometimes from an 85 paragraph judgement – and that was good practice for reading and summarising proper legal cases. In both careers I had to communicate an argument or position whether in person or in print and the training I had in that from horseracing has served me well in my second career.

If you could meet one famous Johnian (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

I should be saying the likes of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, going back to my third year dissertation on slavery and the part they played in history, but we need distractions from a pandemic to keep our spirits up so I’ll opt for entertainment. Hugh Dennis so he could do the ‘Unlikely lines from’ round on Mock the Week live for me, or 40 minutes with the late Voice of Darts, Sid Waddell. The one liners he came out with off the top of his head during commentary were genius. I would just sit back and take them all in. “I’ve got one word for that – magic darts”; “he’s got the look of concentration of Henry VIII, after a seven course meal, with stomach ache”. “Once upon a time he was breaking all records, now he’s only breaking their hearts; nothing you can do, total eclipse of the darts” [about Phil the Power Taylor]. And finally, “when Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer… Bristow’s only 27!”

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Look around and make the most of the opportunities provided for you at College; try new things. St John’s is so big there really is a club or a team for everyone, whether it is a sport, a hobby, music or something else. I frequently walk through the playing fields and wonder why I didn’t play tennis there more often given the facilities. I took up squash a few years after leaving College and then wished I had used the three squash courts at the back of College when the access was so good and right on the doorstep.

What do you hope to contribute to the alumni network through your involvement with the Johnian Society Committee?

Serving on the Committee is my way of giving back at present. Everyone is active in different communities during their life: school, college, work, where they live. I remain incredibly grateful for the chance I had to be part of the St John’s community, the opportunities I had and the friendships I made there. If I can do something on the Committee which helps people remain connected to or reconnect with that community I will be doing well. College isn’t just for three years. I am interested in how the College is changing for the newer members of the community, how older members are doing and what all of us have to offer one another, starting with mentoring. 

If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Johnian Society Committee, please contact the Development Office, the staff of which can facilitate an introduction to the Chair, Claire Griffiths, and the Honorary Secretary, Zip Jilla.