Sunday, January 31, 2016

Brushes With Celebrities

We live in a celebrity worshipping society.  Most of the time it is from a distance, but whenever we get a little closer it can be quite an ego booster.  I am not immune.

Bobby Orr is still considered one of the greatest hockey players ever.  I had two advantages over others.  I lived in Oshawa when he played for the Oshawa Generals and I lived in Haliburton when he trained young hockey players at a local hockey summer camp.  In Oshawa looking back I believe a friend was just trying to impress me and literally introduced me to Bobby Orr while we were both in a long jump competition.  I remember that I jumped 17 feet 11 3/4 inches and that Bobby jumped something like 18 feet 3 inches.  He just missed the cut and I was ranked just below him.  A few years later I was in the local Haliburton hockey arena and another fellow also trying to impress me introduced me to Bobby again.  Unlike my image of most hockey heroes Bobby was very shy and modest, but obviously had a strong competitive spirit.

Gordie Howe was a hero from an earlier era, a time when I watched the NHL religiously but mostly cheered for the Boston Bruins and mostly watched the Toronto Maple Leafs.  It happened that he was an endorser for a product that my employer, OKD Marketing handled the marketing for.  He visited our office with his wife and for some reason I just barged into a small meeting and shook his hand.  I remembered a story I had read about how he met his wife at a bowling alley and asked her if it was true.  She said that in reality he had "stalked" her.

Someone, probably Len Olynyk suggested I might get Gordie involved in some sort of fund raising event.  Eventually I teamed up with a Canadian manager and talking to Bill Tufts, Jr a member of the Rotary Club got quite excited about the opportunity.  Eventually an agreement was made for Gordie Howe to come to Hamilton, make a speech and sign autographed books for which a part went to the Rotary Club.  One of my jobs was to book his hotel room and was amazed at how easy it was to get a free room for a celebrity.  I worked with the Canadian agent and learned that Gordie's wife was the key person and a lot of adjustments were made to suit her.  One person who impressed me was Steve Ruddick, the CHCH sports reporter who understood the situation perfectly and got a great interview with Gord and Colleen Howe.  A lot of enthusiasm and I ended up buying two books, one for my father and one for my wife's step father.  Afterwards my job was to escort Gord and Colleen to their hotel room.  My father in law had been born in Saskatchewan and that was one of our topics of conversation.

I had an indirect connection to Wayne Gretzsky.  It took me awhile to realize that Rheta Cornish who was a secretary for the circulation department where I worked had  been a legal guardian for Wayne Gretzsky when he played minor league hockey in Toronto.   Even as my interest in sports shifted to basketball I was a great admirer of Wayne, not only for his skills, but also for his broadcasted comments which always seemed thoughtful and diplomatic.  Rheta with her husband Bill attended Wayne's wedding, talked about his previous girl friend and also housed Wayne's sister when she attended a local college.  Rheta had a strong influence on me, some of which I am sure was shared by Wayne.  Read one of my more popular blogs http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/06/why-i-love-opera-wayne-gretzky.html

-Coming back from a Florida vacation met and talked with Murray Dryden who had made a connection from Haiti where he was involved in a program to give poor children beds to sleep in.  For those who don't recognize the name, Murray is father to Dave Dryden, an NHL goal keeper and Ken Dryden, NHL goalie, author and politician.  As it happens I was delivering newspapers in Etobicoke for routes without a regular carrier and had met Murray while making collections, but didn't know of any connections at the time.

I also had a sort of indirect contact with a man who combined sports excellence and a strong political path.  When I was researching a book on basketball I had read that Bill Bradley had spent some time in Canada and on impulse wrote to him.  He responded with a thoughtful letter.  His New York Knicks played in Toronto against the Buffalo Braves, but it was an inopportune time for me to follow up.

Not on such a big scale, but also while researching my basketball book I got to interview Jack Donohue, Bill Robinson and Garney Henley amongst many who I greatly admired.   They were all happy to share their experience and joy of basketball.

The University of Guelph with a very strong agricultural (and veterinarian) base was trying to  boost its academic credentials.  I was lured by the tri semester system and the enthusiasm of a spokesperson at my high school.  My friends who went elsewhere laughed that I was going to a cow college, but when they visited they all asked to be taken to see the cows.  I ended up at Lambton Hall and unknown to me one the residence rooms on my floor had been set aside for the student president.  It happened that they were able to persuade a famous Canadian poet, Irving Layton (a common guest on tv shows for his provocative views and art).  One of the first events was for the residents on my floor to meet him.  What I remember is that he didn't believe in censorship and he was provocative.  As a college student his ideas weren't radical for me, but pointed the way to a better future.  In many ways he would not seem so outrageous today. but we  enjoyed the notoriety.

Not too many literary contacts, but I enjoyed talking with John Lawrence Reynolds who had some writing work for my employer and encountered a number of times and have read most of his books.  I was also thrilled to get a signed copy of book I had bought from James A Michener whose books I had read almost all of them.  I had also met Lawrence Hill (winner of two Canada Reads contests) at a Human Library put on in Hamilton.

It seems everyone has had an encounter with some one of celebrity status and they seem to remember  them in more detail than most of their other contacts.  How about you?

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