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19 September, 2011


It's not often that a 70-year-old guy gets to shake the hand of a boyhood sports hero.

Jack Fairs (right) and me.
I had never met Jack Fairs and I never got to see him play baseball in his glory days.  I just read about him in the London Free Press -- a catcher with the London Majors, Canadian and World Baseball Congress Champions in 1948.  His name was always prominent in  the sports pages, first as a member of the John Metras-coached  University of Western Ontario Mustangs football team, then a battery mate in baseball for the legendary future major leaguer Sal Maglie and Senior Intercounty Baseball League standout pitcher Tommy White.  I religiously followed Jack and the perennial Intercounty champion Majors through the pages of the Free Press up to his retirement as an active player following the baseball
season of 1953.

As fortune would have it, I would eventually get to play with Jack's old teammate Tommy White and another member of that famed London Majors team of 1948, Russ Evon.  I also played with and against Roy McKay who just happened to be the bat boy for those same Majors of '48.  They all spoke highly of Jack as a player and person, elevating him even further in my estimation. 

Jack in his baseball days.
Rejecting numerous offers to play professional baseball, Jack chose to pursue his interest in physical education.  After earning his Honors Chemistry degree from Western in 1946, he attended Columbia University for Physical Education in 1947. A few short months later, he was back at Western where he began his teaching and coaching career.  He was associated with Western for over half a century as a teacher, mentor, researcher and coach. He is well known and respected for his extensive contributions in physical education and coaching, particularly in the sport of squash. He retired in 1988 but still continued to coach squash at his alma mater where he was professor emeritus of kinesiology.

Commitment to coaching has been a hallmark of his distinguished career. Incredible as it may seem today, he played and coached five sports during his lifetime: football, basketball, baseball, tennis and squash; producing UWO national champions in tennis, football and squash.  Over the years, he has been the recipient of countless awards and citations, far too many to mention.

You can imagine, then, my utter joy in standing next to the now *90-year-old (or close to it) Jack on a warm sunny day this past June on the lush infield grass at historic Labatt Park in London as we joined a group of London Sports Oldtimers Association honorees.  With the strong arm that had thrown so many baseballs, footballs and basketballs placed firmly on my shoulder (see above photo) we posed for photographs.  I was immediately taken with the aura of a very special man who has accomplished so much in his lifetime.  A class act in every aspect.

You would never guess that Jack is about 10 years shy of the century mark.  He appears to be more like a fit 65 or 70.  "You look like you could still put on a uniform and play," I told him.  "No, don't kid yourself.  I've had some health setback and I'm subject to dizzy spells, so I have to be careful," he explained.  Extremely personable and as sharp as a tack, he expressed interest in my background and at one point strung off a list of names from the past that he thought I might know (and I did) including Red Brewer and Gerald Cook, a couple of old baseball players from my hometown of Dresden.  When we parted, Jack was suggesting a round of golf later that week with a member of the oldtimers committee.  Dizzy spells be damned!

After reading and hearing about Jack Fairs all those years ago and admiring from afar what he stood for, I finally got to meet him -- and he was bigger than life.  The oldtimers plaque I received that day was, in a way, secondary.

Making the outstanding occasion even more significant was the presence of Norm Aldridge, a long-time trainer and coach for London senior baseball teams, including the 1948 World Congress champion Majors.  As best as I can determine Jack, Norm and Gil Robertson (another catcher) are the sole survivors of that great historic team.  

I don't think they make them like that anymore.

* One report lists Jack as being born in Toronto in 1920 while other reports list him as being either 88 or 90 years of age and born in Tillsonburg.  Give or take a year or two, he remains a pretty remarkable guy.

"One of my great joys in coaching
is seeing Western players develop their
abilities to pursue their vocational goals.
"My job as a coach is not only to
assist athletes optimize their potential on
the field of play, but to help them develop
in the broadest possible manner."
--Comment by Jack Fairs in reflecting on his more than 50 years of involvement with the athletic program at the University of Western Ontario, London.

Jack addressed the University of Western Ontario
Convocation, June 17, 2005

1 comment:

Cindy Pond said...

Great story :) Jack is my Great uncle, my grandmother Evelyn's brother. I was so excited to show your story to my daughter who is presently studying Sport Psychology at Laurentian University in Sudbury. I do know that grandmother and her 3 siblings grew up in Tillsonburg. But I am not totally sure they were all born there. Thanks again for such a great story.