Saturday, 22 March 2008

Memories of George 2

Updated 03/29/08
More memories of
George Gross:

Sean McCann
, former Toronto and Calgary Sun reporter/editor: "George never called me kiddo, and any conversations I had with him were totally gentlemanly. And he was that, a gentleman. I can say for sure when I joined the Sun and when I had the pleasure to talk with him, he never made me feel inferior. He was the ultimate journalist actually."

Evelyn Koop, Kalev Estienne rhythmic gymnastics team: "Many people have already expressed their love and admiration for this exceptional person, and I want to add my voice from the perspective of the sport of rhythmic gymnastics.

That George was a great supporter of this sport could easily be seen by any visitor to his office, because of the huge photo on his wall of a Kalev Estienne team, dating from 1968, the year I founded the first Canadian rhythmic gymnastics federation.

George worked with me from the very start in establishing and promoting, first, rhythmic gymnastics and, later, aesthetic group gymnastics (AGG). We had actually agreed that he would run the press conference for the AGG World Championships to be held in Toronto June 12-14, 2008.

Because we both worked unreasonable hours, he was easily available to me when I needed his advice and support, and he was there for me when I got rhythmic gymnastics performances to be part of the opening ceremonies at the Montreal Olympics and, later, to be included in the Olympic Games. He also helped get my team invited to do the half-time shows at soccer games and he wrote about many of our performances and competitions. And so much more.

George was one of the few sport commentators who staunchly supported rhythmic gymnastics as the beautiful but demanding sport it is. He loved it, wanted to promote it and was always concerned about its success.

And I need him, his advice and support right now in the face of the many local obstacles we are meeting when planning for the AGG World Championships to be held for the first time on this side of the Atlantic.

We can never thank you enough for all you did, but still… did you have to leave us so soon?"

Joan Sutton-Straus, former Toronto Sun Lifestyle editor/columnist: "Although I met George at the Telegram, we really became friends at the Eclipse building where we shared an office wall - with a hole in it, which was not unusual in that building.

I will leave it to others to talk about George as a journalist - he was certainly that. But he was also a good sport. Seat George at a table with the ugliest women in the room and he would dance with every one of them - and he was a fabulous dancer - and make every partner believe that she was not only also a great dancer, but beautiful.

George was also a very good friend. As it turned out, our houses on the Kingsway were near each other and when my first marriage broke up, George and Elizabeth were always "there" for me, and for my children.

When I needed professional advice, George could be counted on to speak the truth. When I met Oscar (Joan's second husband), George took him under his wing in Toronto, arranging tennis games, almost always with some beautiful girl on the other side of the net.

We shared many times together, happy and sad; none sadder than this final parting. I can't believe that I will never pick up the phone again to hear that distinctive voice."

Tom Godfrey
, veteran Toronto Sun reporter: "I just saw Gross last Thursday in the newsroom. Me, Mike Strobel and George were just standing around the reception area talking about how the business has changed and how much fun it was before.

We talked about his Ben Johnson exclusive, other big stories and things as they were before all-day news. I told George he's got to write a book about his life, his escape from Czech and all he had been through. Strobel urged him on. George said one of these days he'll write it and said it would be a good movie too.

We three shot the breeze for awhile around the news desk before he strolled back to his office . . .

Peace and Love, George."

John Iaboni
, one of five Day Oners in the Toronto Sun sports department, along with George, Kaye Corbett, Ken Adachi and Eaton Howitt: "To me, George Gross was - and is - Sun Sports. It was a privilege for me to have worked for and with George for 16 years - three at the Toronto Telegram and 13 at the Sun.

When I left the Sun in 1984, I was George's assistant and, needless to say, he was mighty upset that his protege and someone he'd mentored and taught so much decided to move on. He even implored publisher
Doug Creighton to speak to me but to no avail.

"You'll be back within a year," George told me. "No, I won't," I replied.

When I didn't come back, George sent me a note saying "I guess I was wrong." Over the years, I don't think George ever forgave me for leaving. Believe me, it was the toughest decision of my life. And here's why:

For the 16 years, when I was 17 through 33, George was like a second father to me. In fact, I spent much more time around him during those years than I did my Dad. George was a taskmaster, always pushing the buttons for our paper to kick butt and come up with the "scoop."

I truly believe George ran our sports department like
Punch Imlach ran his hockey teams . . . with an iron fist and intent on getting all of us to be loyal to the Sun and work hard for it.

No one could complain of all the long hours or the demands in trying to be the best in the business because it was George who put in the most time and was always trying to land the major stories before anyone else had them. He was a tough act . . . a tougher act to follow.

His list of contacts was incredible and there wasn't a place I'd go, or a person I'd meet, who wouldn't know George or say "give George my best." He knew everybody and everybody knew him.

As the hockey writer at the Sun, I often found myself in delicate situations since two of his best friends and closest allies were Punch Imlach and Alan Eagleson. But, to his credit, whenever I was critical of Punch and The Eagle, he never tried to influence my opinion. Deep down, I think he liked knowing I could get a rise out of his close friends, keeping them in check since The Baron was in their corner.

George's passing was shocking because my 40 years in the business have always had The Baron as a guiding light. When Sheila Chidley called to tell me the news, I thought back to all those great days at the Sun and all the people around George. He brought together a great team and he was the perfect leader for it.

Right from Day One of the Sun, sports was his department and it always will be."

Charles "Chick" McGregor, former Toronto Telegram sports staffer: "I worked with the Baron in sports at the Tely in the 60s as Doug Creighton's assistant and then as sports editor when Doug moved up to ME. George became my assistant sports editor.

It would be incorrect to say that I was George's boss. Nobody was George's boss, except his great wife, Elizabeth, that is. He had his own way of doing things and Doug had always given him free rein, so I did the same. And it paid off with one great story after another as he played his contacts like fiddles and worked the Rolodex like a junk bond salesman.

Sometimes, HE was the story.
Like the World Hockey or Figure Skating Championships (I forget which) being staged in one of the Communist countries in Europe. Maybe Prague, where George was still a wanted man for having escaped the Czech regime years before. The Tely wouldn't pony up the money to send him so he was right pissed. Then he discovered that his request for media credentials, sent in months before, had been denied.

He and Creighton went in to see Doug MacFarlane, the editor-in-chief, more or less asking "Are you going to let those lousy Commies keep the Tely from covering this event for Canadian readers?" MacFarlane no doubt saw through this scam but also knew he could convince John Bassett (a Major in WWII who served overseas) that they should take a stand against the Commies -- and George was on his way. He became the story.

Wearing his Canadian tartan fedora he bought tickets to all the events, sat in the stands and called press conferences to tell the world that nobody from an Iron Curtain country was going to stop him from filing copy to the Toronto Telegram. The story -- and George's photo in his tartan hat -- was in most major newspapers and on TV around the world. Game, Set and Match to the tennis playing sports writer.

The night the Toronto Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup (1967, in case you don't remember that far back), we gathered in the Tely sports department to sort out who was writing what for the next day's paper. As I recall it, along with the Baron, we had Bob Pennington, Paul Dulmage and Al Sokol doing the main stories and I was writing some colour stuff. George was a really great pal of the coach, Punch Imlach, but he didn't seem to have much in the way of quotes from him. Or so it seemed to me. So I suggested that George should bulk his copy up a bit.

He tried to get Punch on the phone, but the line was continually busy and he couldn't reach him. I then said maybe he should go to his house, a 30-minute ride away in Scarborough. Those of you who remember George well can imagine the fierce look I got - but he went. Eventually, it was closing on deadline and no word from the Baron. No cell phones to call him on and Imlach's phone was off the hook. We had space saved for his story and were getting ready to plug it with a couple of photos when he came in, hat on the back of his head, camel hair coat draped over his shoulders and a giant grin on his face.

George apologized for being so long, but he said he had a great story. Which he had. Punch had four bottles of champagne - one from each of his Stanley Cup victories, with the 1967 win being the fourth - and he was drinking them that night with his wife, Dodo and his close friends and George was welcome to join him. And so he did, giving the Tely one more story that the Star and the Globe didn't have but wished that they did."

Memories of George? E-mail them to TSF.

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