Pictou Advocate sports

Signing books and seeing folks

Sports

Putting it into today’s lingo, I had a blast.

It was two Wednesdays ago and I was experiencing my first book launch and signing at New Glasgow’s Highland Square Mall.

At 79, I was a rookie.

Though I was introducing my second book within 14 months, it was the first time I was involved in such an exercise.

I was almost feeling like a celebrity as I walked towards the designated location already set up by Barry Trenholm, the curator of the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame. And, to make it ideal, it was right outside a Tims outlet. Bring on the coffee and Timbits.

Barry had copies of my new book, Remembering Pictou County, on the table and waiting for me. There were even pens at the ready for my signature.

For the next three hours, I was “on the job.” The fact we had a great selling session made the exercise even more pleasant.

I was surprised at the amount of shopper traffic in the mall in the middle of the week. It reminded me what it used to be like on Provost Street half a century ago when most faces were familiar and conversations were plentiful.

Heck, I even had a small support team on hand. My sister Barbara was there from the Chester area. Friend Sheila McDougall, a longtime newspaper reporter, editor and freelance writer, came over from Truro. A former high school classmate of mine and Pictou Landing native, Marcia (Campbell) Davey, author of eight novels, came from Rhode Island.

I’m a people person. Always was. So it was wonderful seeing so many familiar faces drop by, some of them gift shopping for Christmas. Their purchases were nice, but the conversations were a bonus. It was fun playing “guess who I am” games with faces that had changed quite a bit over the years – and, in some cases, decades.

Before I got to the book signing location, I was meeting up with sports people I’ve known forever. The first was Gus Fahey, who was phys-ed teacher at Westville High School where he coached teams in a dozen different sports, bringing many championships to the school.

And so it went.

Chats were much too brief, but certainly enjoyable. I never tire of reminiscing with people from eons ago. I kept being reminded how friendly Pictonians are — and always were.

It was a delight when I spotted an old friend from my days at St. Francis Xavier University in the 1950s. John (Packy) McFarland, legendary football and basketball player and coach at the Antigonish campus was stopping by to say hello. He was even bringing along a copy of his 1971 book, 75 Years of Hockey (at St. FX). He had forgotten he had given me a copy those 46 long years ago, a copy that’s worn from usage.

I can’t let the opportunity pass without saying a few things about Packy.

When I ventured east to Antigonish in 1956 to begin what was supposed to be an engineering pilgrimage at X, I soon realized I had boarded the wrong train. I decided not to hang around for the long haul and escaped to another campus — – the University of King’s College and a journalism course. The rest is history; I had found my calling.

In my abbreviated stay at St. FX, I met many wonderful people.

Just four weeks ago, I had written a column on one of them – the legendary football coach, Don Loney, a man I admired for many reasons. No need to repeat that story.

So there I was at the book launch with another great Xaverian. Packy, like Loney, came to Nova Scotia to study and play varsity sports, fell in love with the province, and stayed. Now he’s become a Pictonian.

It was the fall of 1956 that Packy and I first crossed paths. He obtained an arts degree the previous spring and returned to add an education degree. I was a freshman trying to find my way among engineering students.

Packy was a football all-star and basketball all-star. He was outstanding in both sports, serving as co-captain on the football field and basketball court. Later, he was inducted into the university’s sports hall of fame in both football and basketball, as well as rugby.

In those days, life at St. FX was quiet and innocent. So much so that a priest resided on every floor of every residence. And — get this — the electricity was shut off at 11 o’clock every night. You had to have your homework done early or light a candle. Drinking at St. FX? In the 1950s, that would probably earn you a one-way ticket home.

In 1956, Packy had come back with expectations of one more season of football.

Unfortunately fate entered the picture.

After just two games, McFarland was seriously injured in an automobile accident. His playing days were over.

He eventually became head basketball coach and an assistant to Loney with the football club. He also became a professor in the athletic department. He was a good and respected coach and teacher. He also did a rewarding job as assistant to athletic director Rev. George Kehoe.

Then fate intervened again.

In 1991, Father Kehoe was killed in a highway accident that shocked the St. FX community. Packy became athletic director. It was a position he loved. It was an era in which the basketball X-Men became national champions and the football X-Men won conference and Atlantic Bowl titles. He was in his glory.

Where was I a few paragraphs ago?

Oh yes, talking about the book launch and the people I saw that day. I just couldn’t let the chance go by to reflect on Packy’s career. He was one of the great ones.

Those few hours at the mall were truly a happy occasion.

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