Saturday 22 March 2008

30 - George Gross

George Gross, affectionately called The Baron, is dead at 85.

The Toronto Sun's founding sports editor died of a heart attack at his Etobicoke home Friday morning. On Thursday, he was where he has always been for almost four decades - on the job for a full day working on his next Sun sports column.

The Czech-born sports journalism legend turned 85 on Jan. 23, surrounded by well wishers in the newsroom and sharing birthday cake and refreshments.

So news of his death shocked current and former colleagues and the sports world. (The world wide contacts in George's sports book reads like a Who's Who.)

As word of his death spread, news agencies and other media began paying tribute to The Baron.

"It just stopped us cold when his son phoned in this morning," Lou Clancy, editor in chief, said Friday in an Associated Press story.

In a Canadian Press story, Clancy described Gross, the Sun's corporate sports editor, as one of "the last of the deans of sportswriting."

"Milt Dunnell, James Coleman, Scott Young, Ted Reeve and Jim Hunt, they were all legends," Clancy said. "And George certainly stands right with them."

Peter Worthington writes about his fellow Day Oner and longtime friend in the Saturday Sun, as do columnist Joe Warmington. and sports desk vet Bill Lankhof.

The Saturday Star has a lengthy tribute (not online) by Kevin McGran, accompanied by a 1992 photo of George with Milt Dunnell, the Star's sports legend who died recently at 102.

Many more words are anticipated as media reach some of the countless athletes George wrote about in his six decades as a Tely/Sun sports journalist.

Meanwhile, on the boss front . . .

George, a 1974 National Newspaper Award winner, molded the Sun's acclaimed sports desk team as sports editor from 1971 through 1986, training proteges and earning the respect of sports writers and editors on numerous fronts.

Dave Fuller, the current Sun sports editor, says in a Sun story George Gross was demanding but one who rewarded hard work.

"George hired me in 1977 and if you worked hard and broke stories, you'd be fine with him," said Fuller. "He liked guys who worked long hours and were really dedicated."

When George Gross wasn't writing columns and earning sports honours - he was a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame - he was a tireless fundraiser for Variety Village and numerous other charities.

The annual Variety Village Christmas Fund drive was George's baby, an idea inspired by founding publisher Doug Creighton in the 1980s. More than $1.1 million has been raised since its launch in 1983, thanks to George's efforts and the generosity of Sun readers.

Among the other honours for a man whose vocabulary did not include retirement: The Order of Ontario, the Olympic Order, an Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame.

George was an athlete before he was a sportswriter and missed representing Czechoslovakia in the 1940 Olympics because of WW2. His post-war political writing would put him in jail.

In 1949, George fled his communist homeland, quickly honed his English and in the 1950s was hired by the Telegram. When the Tely folded on Oct. 30, 1971, he joined 61 other out-of-work Tely people and helped launch the Sun on Nov. 1, 1971.

(George wrote about his memories of the Sun's launch for a 30th anniversary edition special supplement in 2001.)

George, who is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, a son, George, and a daughter, Elizabeth, was always on the job, whether in his office, on the road chasing a story or travelling the globe.

The dapper sports journalism icon, an avid tennis player in his 80s and a soccer player in his younger days, always had a smile for colleagues while strolling the hallways of 333 King Street East. And the stories he had to tell.

George's legacy is filled to the brim - six decades of memorable sports stories and columns, tireless community service, a loving family, appreciative colleagues and readers and an OK backhand.

It was good knowing you Kiddo.

E-mail your Memories of George Gross to TSF.

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