Why focus a book exclusively on Pictou County and, more specifically, on the region’s sports community and its people?
The question came up one morning while five old geezers were chatting around a table at a neighbourhood Tim Hortons in Dartmouth.
The query was clearly directed at me.
It was something that, someday, somehow, I wanted to do before the curtain fell on my lifetime newspaper career. You know the scenario – one of those ideas that comes into your head and you just can’t let it go.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve wondered why nobody ever wrote a book devoted to the county’s many athletes, coaches, managers, officials, executives and, yes, fans – those many, many people who dedicated so much of their lives to leagues, teams and events.
Just look at the growing lists of inductees at the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame in New Glasgow and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
I thought, if there was a way I could get a book done, I would do it.
The objective was simple — make sure the names of our sports leaders are preserved on bookshelves for generations to come. Those good people deserve nothing less.
Yet I never attempted to carry out the task.
A decade and a half ago, when I was approaching my half-century mark with newspapers in this province, some folks urged me to produce a book about my career. I thanked them for the compliment, shrugged a couple of times, then put the idea on the back burner.
But the more the idea was mentioned, the more I began thinking about it more seriously.
When my wife Jane passed away three years ago, I decided the time was right. I would write my memoirs, dedicate the book to her, and give the proceeds to our church in Jane’s memory.
I Lived My Dream became a reality in October 2016. Its 440 pages talked about my experiences at the Olympic Games, the World Series, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the other things that highlighted my years in the sports world. Its success made the effort worthwhile.
But I wasn’t satisfied.
There was still the need – a wish, really – to do that book on Pictou County and Pictonians. It’s where I was born, where I grew up, where I got my baptism in sports writing, where my own memories began.
By the end of last winter, I made up my mind. Though a few dozen copies of my first book remained available, I convinced myself that it was now or never for my original idea.
I went to work.
I began spending six to eight hours a day at my computer. I called the book Remembering Pictou County.
The more I reflected on my “hometown” experiences, the more I realized I had been blessed with a lifetime job that really wasn’t a job.
I knew I could go on writing many, many more chapters, but I wasn’t attempting to set a record. I stopped at 100 chapters – about 110,000 words – that include profiles on almost 80 Pictonians. To make it a completely Pictou County product, I wanted it published at Advocate Publishing in Pictou.
Yes, a Pictou book for Pictonians.
There’s a chapter on the day I spent at John (Brother) MacDonald’s home, addressing every phase of his long and impressive life. I couldn’t write such a book without putting attention on him, the man who encouraged me to get into journalism in the first place, the man who inspired me at every turn, the man who became one of my dearest friends, the man who, when he passed away, left a huge hole in my heart.
Another chapter focuses on a beautiful summer afternoon I spent on the verandah of Phyllis and Bob Parker’s cottage at Black Point, overlooking the Northumberland Strait. There I listened to Phyllis explain how she was “totally, totally devastated, depressed” when she learned she had cancer, but how she overcame the disease and joined the Abreast A River dragon boat team.
A chapter recalls the time I was with Gloria Borden, who was one of 18 children in a New Glasgow family. We talked at length that day about the tough times she experienced, having to fight racial situations while growing up and becoming an outstanding athlete at New Glasgow High.
I included Henderson Paris’s heart-warming story, how he was impressed by Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour when it went through the county, how he ran alongside Hansen that day, how it inspired him to start his own Run Against Racism campaign. A remarkable man if there ever was one.
And there’s a chapter on my long and fond relationship with Pictou hockey star Mark Babineau. I loved being with him – and I’ve never forgotten how openly he talked about the day his teammate, linemate and best friend Tic Williams died in his arms as they were skating at the Pictou rink.
Those are just a few of the more emotional stories I looked back at, but there were the careers of many other sports people that I felt should be saved.
Writing this book – to use an old expression – was a labour of love.
Now in the autumn of a career that has stretched to 64 years, I admit I was thoroughly absorbed in this effort since last April. I loved doing it. I loved every moment, every day, every month I spent making it happen.
Remembering Pictou County will be on sale at the Advocate office on George Street in Pictou and at the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame on East River Road in New Glasgow. It has a $25 price tag – but $10 from each copy sold within the county will be donated to the hall of fame.
I hope you, too, enjoy the memories.