Thursday, September 06, 2007

Doug Maxwell: Curling Giant

You can read a fair amount these days about Doug Maxwell, the curling impresario who passed away last Friday in his 80th year.

The news first broke via an obituary notice in the Globe & Mail, then Al Cameron ran a piece on Sunday, as did curling friend Bob Cowan in Scotland.

Tuesday saw a salute from the World Curling Federation and also from CBC, where Maxwell first plied his specialized trade of curling journalism.

Finally, today’s Owen Sound Sun-Times spotlights Maxwell’s impact on the Markdale community, and today’s Toronto Star also has a nice piece, with the print version including a recent photo of Maxwell at one of his beloved Skins Games (photo above by curling camera whiz Mark Snyder).

There’s even been a few calls for the world championship trophy to be renamed the Maxwell Cup.

We at The Curling News are in mourning, as Doug, or “DDM” as he was known, was more than simply a senior columnist. He was our Editor Emeritus, a title bestowned upon him after 20 years of owning the former Canadian Curling News, for which he also served as Publisher and Editor.

After rescuing CCN from certain collapse in 1980, Maxwell sold the paper in the fall of 2003, in the hopes that former CCN Associate Editor (and 1998 Olympian) George Karrys could carry the tradition forward. Four years later, The Curling News – plus this here blog – has solidified its status as the world’s top curling publication, turning heads with cutting-edge content, attractive design values, and even eye-catching TV commercials.

We started a new department for our 50th anniversary last fall, in which archived stories and photos from the past were reprinted – many of them written years ago by Maxwell himself – and the sheer degree of positive feedback will see us do this once again, as the calendar year will shortly carry us into our 51st publishing season.

We have our readers – in particular, our print subscribers – to thank for this success, but we have Doug Maxwell to thank for his direction, his work ethic, his standards of professionalism and, above all, his sheer love and passion for the world’s fastest growing winter sport. He was, and he remains, the inspiration of our commitment to first-class product. He was, and remains, a friend... who happens to command a remarkable curling legacy.

We are also in shock at the speed of his passing. In mid-August, Maxwell submitted a written proposal to the World Curling Federation, clearly indicated that despite recent health struggles, there was no stopping “Mr. Curling.”

However, an August 25 message detailed the bad news from doctors: his cancer had returned and was terminal, leaving only an estimated 5-10 months of opportunities left. Still, we all thought, we hadn’t heard the last from Doug.

Less than a week later, he was gone.

Gord Maxwell, one of Doug’s three sons, tells us that, if anything, his father left the impression he “was setting an example to me even in how he died.

“It was, to a certain extent, his program. He took (the bad news) the way he wanted, and it happened the way he wanted. There was no doubt in his mind, and he was calm and focussed.”

And so the curling world has lost another giant, just a year after the passing of Don “Buckets” Fleming, whom Maxwell himself labelled “an all-time curling character.” And as we prepare to gather in tiny Markdale, Ontario this Sunday, we shall leave you with some words from Doug Maxwell himself, as excerpted from his most recent book, Tales of a Curling Hack, which was published less than a year ago; an essential item for your bookshelf, now more than ever.

It’s been quite the ride since your first eight-ender, scored at MontrĂ©al in 1951, old friend. Rest well.

Being, on occasion, a modest sort of chap, I never thought much about my place in the world of curling. Oh, I knew that my commentator’s countenance on television, first with the CBC’s “Cross Canada Curling,” Brier telecasts, and a variety of curling shows in the sixties and seventies) and later with TSN (The Sports Network), gave me some sort of recognition. But I didn’t think it was anything other than the kind of notoriety that goes with boob tube familiarity.

I knew, too, that my 18-year stint as executive director of the Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship had given me a certain profile among some of the elite players of the game, but I dismissed that as more face recognition than peer respect. After all, they were the stars of the show, and I was mainly the plumber, the promoter, the public presence of the event.

Then, following the publication of my 2002 book Canada Curls: The Illustrated History of Curling in Canada, I began to get letters asking questions or suggesting theories that the correspondents felt I could address. People seemed to think I might have a secret source of curling information, and, on the odd occasion, I realized maybe they were right. I had to admit that, yes, I might be the only one still alive who had some arcane detail or piece of curling trivia stuck in a recess of my mind.

I read in Bill Bryson’s fascinating book A Short History of Nearly Everything that when the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington was asked “Is it true you are one of only three people in the world who actually understands Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?” the famous Brit was silent for a minute and then replied, “I’m trying to think who the other two might be.”

Once or twice, over the past few years, I have felt like Sir Arthur E. – not about Einstein’s theory, of course – but perhaps, maybe, curling? Without being too immodest, I think I bring a variety of credentials to the challenge of this book. At one time or another, I have been a broadcaster, reporter, official, umpire, statistician, organizer, promoter, innovator, sponsor and, most recently, a historian of the game. So occasionally, just like Eddington, Ive tried to think who the other know-it-alls might be. And then, as I came up with their names, I recruited them to add some of their comments to mine. The result, I hope, will be fun for all of us...

... I titled this chapter Completing the Circle. Heres why. In Chapter 1, I imagined a conversation between Baron Pierre de Coubertin and Vince Lombardi. Now that I have passed my biblical three score and ten, I have finally accepted the fact I will never fulfill Lombardi’s injunction by winning the Brier or the World. I do think, however, that I might qualify for a pat on the back from the Baron.

I think I have stayed the course, taken part. I have, perhaps, triumphed in some things, and I know I have been a part of the struggle. I may not have conquered too often, but I allow as how I have fought well.

I began my curling journey by covering the first Schoolboy Curling Championship in 1950. By attending the 2006 World Men’s Curling Championship, I think I have completed the circle.

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