Pictou Advocate sports

A dear friend faces comeback


If you know Donald Gavin Murray — and who doesn’t around Pictou County? — you’re fully aware of his life-long passions.

Family comes first. It always has.

It begins with his wife Jean, who may be even better known than Donnie himself, notably when it comes to church, politics and community affairs. And I mustn’t forget her superb talents in the kitchen — the years of pies, biscuits, pickles and jam.

Jane and Donnie have always been busy, their responsibilities including bringing up daughter Margie and sons Gordon, Graham and Grant. In more recent years, there have been the grandchildren.

Among my blessings, I’ve been fortunate that, for 60 years, Donnie has been a dear friend. Not much later, Jean and my late wife Jane became important cogs in that friendship. The four of us had many good times together.

I use the three names when mentioning Donald Gavin Murray because, though I’ve always known him as “Donnie,” many others recognize him as “Gavin.”

Whatever you call him, you think of a guy who has loved sports, particularly baseball, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Maple Leafs. Even above those, golf has had a huge place in his heart. He played Abercrombie so many times with his buddies, he should have had a course of his own.

Time changes things, unfortunately.

For Donnie, there won’t be any more playing 18 holes before breakfast, out there with his pals awaiting the break of dawn so they could tee off. But mention golf even now and he still overwhelms you with stories.

Mishaps happen in this journey called life, even to good guys.

Donnie, who will be 87 in July, had an accident a few weeks ago, a backward fall on the stairs at home. The lower part of his back suffered the most.

But he has always found a way to make a comeback, and I suspect he has another in mind.

Oh the wonderful times we’ve had together!

Our friendship developed in the 1950s, when I was a young reporter covering senior softball in Trenton and Donnie was playing for the Trenton Aces. It grew quickly — around the ball fields, the hockey rinks, the bowling alleys, anywhere sports were in the spotlight.

In the 1960s, the trips began in earnest — especially to ball games at Fenway Park in Boston, and hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

We never agreed in baseball. I was a devout New York Yankees fan and, whenever it was time for debate, he and I plunged into our Joe DiMaggio-Ted Williams arguments.

That wasn’t something new in Donnie’s life. Before I knew him, he and younger brother Dempie had their battles. Williams versus Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals was their constant thing. Back when Donnie and Dempie were growing up in Hillside, Bosox-Cardinals raged through the house.

As for Donnie and I, we were on opposite sides only during baseball season. In hockey, we have both been Toronto Maple Leafs fans since birth.

Anytime I overheard Donnie debating premier hockey players, he forever brought up the same subject – that no NHL team had three better centres at the same time. He eventually convinced me about the threesome – Syl Apps, Teeder Kennedy and Max Bentley.

Donnie could have authored a book about his sports adventures.

Take October 1999 and experiences that took him to major events in golf and baseball just a week apart.

It began when his youngest son Grant, who was — and still is — living in New England, phoned his father and told him to fly to Boston the following day. It was for a secret mission known only to Grant and Jean.

When he reached Logan Airport the next morning, Donnie was told that Grant had two tickets to the Ryder Cup golf classic at nearby Brookline. While at the event, Donnie excitedly turned to Grant and exclaimed, “Wow, I’m the only person from Hillside at the Ryder Cup.”

Imagine the golf-loving Pictonian up close to Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Justin Leonard, Mark O’Meara, Payne Stewart and David Duval.

If you know Donnie, you know he was never shy. Before leaving the course that day, he had shaken hands with basketball great Michael Jordan and hockey superstar Mario Lemieux.

See what I mean about a Donald Gavin Murray book?

Two days later, the head of the Murray household was back home in New Glasgow — but his adventures weren’t over.

There was another surprise.

I told Donnie it was time for us to take another trip. I suggested Boston, even though he had just gotten back from there.

His response? “Great idea. Hey, do you have any connections with the Red Sox? Their playoff games with Cleveland are at Fenway.”

I let him in on another secret — I already had good tickets for those playoff games.

A couple days later, with wives in tow, our foursome was off to Beantown, a 12-hour drive by car.

Fenway and its Green Monster were familiar turf for Donnie. He saw countless games there. So did I, including one summer when I watched 14 games there in 14 days.

For those playoff tilts, we sat two rows behind the Boston dugout. I never saw Donnie smiling so much. Though I’d been to many World Series and Stanley Cup games, I was never among a more boisterous crowd. Donnie, cheering for Boston of course, was in his glory.

Twelve years later, in July 2011, the day Donnie marked his 80th birthday, the festivities were at Abercrombie, where else could they have been? He talked happily, about golf, about hockey and, yes, about family.

Now, as birthday number 87 draws nearer, that family, as well as his many friends, are the ones cheering for him to make another comeback — a medical one.

After a 60-year friendship, I’m confident he’ll achieve it.