As Don Connolly takes his leave

Sports
Pictou Advocate sports

And so, as Don Connolly turns off his Information Morning microphone at CBC Halifax for the last time, where does the popular radio host go from here?

I have some thoughts on what he can do.

Might he finally get to put on his red, white and blue hockey gear and offer help to his struggling Montreal Canadiens, the team he’s adored since the days of Maurice (Rocket) Richard and Jean Beliveau?

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Might he look southward to his gridiron favourites and submit suggestions to the coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL franchise he’s worshipped since the days of Franco Harris, Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw?

Or might he simply increase his trips to the province’s fairways and greens, a longstanding habit of his, and attempt to become a champion in the old folks division, with visions of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods dancing in his head?

At 70 years of age — is he really that much younger than me? — after 42 years as the most familiar radio voice on Nova Scotia’s mainland, might he find satisfaction simply by not getting up at four o’clock in the morning like he’s done some 10,000 times?

It might be all three.

I did wonder, as I began writing this week’s column, if my chosen subject qualified for the sports page. I decided to proceed. Sports have certainly been an enjoyable part of his life.

I can also mention there are significant things that Don and I had in common during our growing-up years in Antigonish and New Glasgow respectively, and during our long careers in the media.

Way back, many folks around the cathedral town thought Don would get into the family’s construction business while numerous Pictonians expected me to follow my father into the car business. Instead, we both ventured elsewhere, following our personal ambitions.

A second thought — and I believe it’s what kept both of us around for so long — we both loved doing what we were doing.

Combined, we’ve spent more than 100 years in our chosen professions.

Don’s been in radio through his entire adult life, including his elongated streak as Nova Scotia’s best-recognized “morning man,” while I’ve been in the newspaper racket for 64 years, including 48 on the staff of The Chronicle Herald.

There’s something else we have shared — the true enjoyment of meeting and interviewing many, many people, especially fellow Nova Scotians.

Ever since I initially heard of Don’s planned departure, I felt it was something worthy of mention — and, for sure, warm congratulations.

There aren’t very many mainland Nova Scotians, in or out of sports, who didn’t become familiar with the friendly Connolly voice during our waking-up hours. His conversations with so many — friends and strangers alike — drew us to the program.

Seriously, there’s always been room in Don’s heart for sports.

He’s never overlooked mentioning the Habs and Steelers during his on-air dialogues with sports announcer John Hancock, current colleague Louise Renault and previous co-hosts like Don Tremaine and Elizabeth Logan.

Not very many of us would appreciate years and years of having the alarm clock going off in the wee hours of the morning. To him, though, it was simply a part of the job. His toughest mornings, I think, were the ones following a loss by the Canadiens or Steelers. For him, the Monday after Pittsburgh’s unexpected elimination in this season’s playoffs was perhaps as dark as the black on the Steelers’ uniforms.

Switching to more favourable matters, how much does Don love Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians?

A great, great deal.

That affection for the province, I’m sure, played a major part in his long-ago decision to turn down a big radio job in Toronto to take his place at CBC Halifax. I doubt he ever regretted that choice.

There’s something else that shouldn’t be overlooked as he takes his leave. He didn’t spend all of his working time in the coziness of a warm studio. When major news stories developed in our province, Don was often there, contributing his expertise to the CBC’s coverage.

Pictonians experienced his quality work up close when the Westray mine exploded in Plymouth in 1992, killing 28 coal miners. He got himself and a broadcast team to the scene faster than the crow flies — and was a fixture there until the story came to its sad conclusion. The same was true on the South Shore in 1998 when Swissair Flight 111 crashed off the coast, taking 229 lives.

So what’s next?

He doesn’t have to go into seclusion when he heads home this Friday. He’s too knowledgeable, too talented, to spend all his time watching the Canadiens and Steelers. None of us wants that to happen.

My own retirement from The Herald occurred in April 2007. I was within a month of my 69th birthday. I didn’t want to leave — my goal all along was to work with the provincial paper for 50 years. That objective fell short by less than two years.

I was lucky. I had already been writing weekly columns for the Advocate, a position that has given me plenty of happy occasions as I returned to Pictou County many times in the last 13 years to interview and reacquaint myself with sports people in the area where it all started.

Age doesn’t have to end something we love.

Two years ago, as I turned 78, I wrote my memoirs, I’ve Lived My Dream. Last year, at 79, I published my second book, Remembering Pictou County. Now, only four months shy of the big 80, I’m contemplating a third book. Don would smile at the name: Confessions of a Leafs Fan.

If I may, I have some parting advice for Don: “Write your memoirs, old friend; it will be a wonderful read. Meantime, thanks for all those interesting interviews you’ve done. You’ve been the very best.”

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