Pictou Advocate sports

A remarkable guy reaches a milestone


It’s a date I wasn’t going to miss.

For several months, there’s been a conspicuous red star on my kitchen calendar to signify the importance of this Wednesday — and it has nothing to do with COVID-19 or the arrival of a vaccine.

But yes, it’s a day worth noting.

A remarkable guy — and a very dear friend — turns 80 years old today. In his case, it’s more like 80 years young. He remains on a pace that would weary someone half his age.

I’ve met a tremendous number of people in my lifetime, one of the enjoyable perks when you’re in this vocation.

And, truly, the word “remarkable” fits him better than any label I would find in my dictionary or thesaurus.

It sums up Joel Jacobson to a tee.

Everything he’s done, every challenge he’s accepted, he’s responded with dedication and excellence.

His life has been an inspiration to countless numbers of people he’s helped, through his newspaper and public relation efforts, through his many volunteer capacities.

He’s a Halifax lifer, whose father owned a long-time clothing store business that could very easily have become his.

But the son had other dreams.

Joel loved sports so much, when he graduated from Queen Elizabeth High School, he aimed his goals in that direction.

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, he obtained a bachelor of commerce degree at Dalhousie University. In 1963-64, he added a masters in journalism at Boston University.

He did stay a while in the business world. Until the late ’70s, he was a retail buyer and manager for Kline’s Limited.

Then the sports door opened.

From 1976 to 1979, he served as marketing and public relations manager for Sport Nova Scotia.

The bug bit deeper.

He landed in the front office of the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the local American Hockey League farm team for the Montreal Canadiens. You can be sure he loved that job.

Then, in 1984, he put his journalism background into play when he accepted a new challenge at The Chronicle Herald. By then, I knew him well because of his time with Sport Nova Scotia and the Vees.

We became colleagues for 23 years.

From the first day he arrived in the newsroom, I witnessed an ambitious writer who became a huge asset to the provincial paper.

Like most in the reporting field, he held various positions, covering sports, politics, business, anything that was asked of him.

What he loved most — like myself — was writing columns.

And what a job he did in that role for 25 years! His columns, Bright Spot and Great Kids, were enormous winners. Readers quickly climbed on his bandwagon. His writings, so many about ordinary Nova Scotians with interesting tales to tell, were followed far and wide.

You might think when he retired from the Herald — back in 2009 — that he would have lessened his commitments in the community. But that’s never been the Joel way.

He got himself busier than ever — mostly as a volunteer.

For decades, Joel has been a major behind-the-scenes asset at the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, his main focus on the annual induction ceremonies and editing the marvellous induction night programs.

He and his close lifetime pal Jackie Yablon were the major sparks when the local Canadian Progress Club began sponsoring annual celebrity functions featuring many of the biggest stars from the international sports world.

Some, including a few Progress Club members, felt it was a one-shot deal back in the 1970s. Instead, it has been a huge annual success for nearly five decades. It got bigger and bigger, with some 350 headliners up to now.

Joel’s volunteering never stopped.

Always in demand, he has donated his services countless times as a speaker, as a master of ceremonies, as a marketing and promotional spokesman for many associations in the region.

I certainly can’t overlook his ongoing work with Atlantic and Canadian university sports events held in Halifax. Regional and national basketball championships, as well as national hockey events, wouldn’t be nearly as successful without his input.

I’ve left something even more important until now.

A decade ago, beloved sports broadcaster Pat Connolly — another close friend of Joel’s — decided to write his memoir, only to be slowed by failing health. It’s not hard to guess who stepped in to help. Joel and Pat were the perfect combination to get the book done.

For many, many months, the two were together for hundreds of hours as the old announcer told his life story to Joel.

Sadly, Pat passed away just as the book was getting finished. I’m sure, though, he knew that Joel was producing a perfect publication.

Needless to say, Play by Play: The Life and Times of Pat Connolly, was a winner, a huge addition to any Nova Scotian’s bookshelf.

The final comment in Joel’s epilogue summed it up this way: “We won’t cry because his life is over. We will be happy because it happened, and we could each be part of it.”

A familiar Jacobson touch.

One of Joel’s most noticeable traits, in whatever he did, has been his enthusiasm. He does everything with a joy in his heart and a smile on his face.

I’ve witnessed that excitement in so many places — when he’s greeting an acquaintance, even when he’s devouring salads or liver and onions in a restaurant.

He’s been a very welcomed opponent for years in our fantasy baseball and hockey leagues, participating with his usual exuberance.

Finally, there’s the most important people in his life — beloved wife Cathy, son Jason, daughter Debra, daughter-in-law Jessica, son-in-law Ian, and grandchildren Olivia, Sam, AJ and Kyle.

So there you have it — the kind of story I love to write, the kind of story Joel authored all the time.

Happy 80th, old friend, and remember: it’s just a number.