Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A man's man ...

Boston, twilight.

My heart is heavy tonight, because I just learned that a good, good friend is at death's door. Death will take Fred Pearson, as it will eventually take all of us. But I believe, deep in my heart, that Death will take no satisfaction in taking Fred Pearson from us.

Fred Pearson is one of my heroes. Period. Don't be fooled by the accompanying photo, taken on Fred's 83rd birthday a few years back. Sure, it looks randy, but it speaks more to the sophomoric humor that hockey players like to employ to shield how much they really do care about the other guys in the locker room. And, to be perfectly honest, Fred was truly embarrassed by all the fuss, not to mention the "special guest" we plopped in his lap. Fred, frankly, loved everything about hockey, except maybe the Neanderthal humor. He was an Ivy man, through and through. His Yale teams were stuff of legend, and he went on the play in the Olympic Games in St. Mortiz in 1948 (one of the more bizarre chapters of Winter Olympic lore, when the United States actually sent two teams from competing amateur associations). He was a test pilot in the armed forces, and a long-time ad executive for Channel 38 here in Boston. He never married, though we all suspected that he was never lacking for companionship. Fred was also an avid cyclist, and following his retirement, could often be seen pedaling all over Cape Ann and points beyond. When he wasn't playing hockey, that is.

If Frederick Gordon Neil Pearson had one enduring love in his life, it was this beautiful, ephemeral game. He played it with passion, with spit and vinegar, with joy. He roamed the left wing on the North Shore Skating Association skates on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for just about as long as I can remember, resplendent in his bright yellow Swedish jersey. I have trouble getting my head around the notion that when I first met Fred, some two decades ago, he was already in his 60s, a good 10 years older than I am now. We had our share of "goal-crease discussions," when Fred insisted on taking one last whack at the puck (dammit, I know the guy was my senior by 30 years, but he was still strong enough to break a few fingers if I didn't remind him to keep the lumber in check!). But I love the guy's spirit, that indomitable spirit, and his willingness to always go into the corner and do the dirty work to get the puck.

I'm not one bit afraid to say how much I loved spending time with Fred Pearson. For the 20-some-odd years that I knew Fred, he would regale us with locker room tales of this game or that, stretching all the way back to his Ivy career at Yale, and the fact that it was his team that snapped Dartmouth's legendary 45-game winning steak in January of 1946. He scored two goals in Yale's epic 6-4 win. Typical Fred; right in the thick of things. Yet whenever I would pester Fred about a possible story about his exploits, he would demure. "Who would want to read about an old codger like me?" was his standard reply.

A few years ago, Joe Bertagna, the Hockey East commissioner and erstwhile scribe, penned a terrific two-part series on hockey legend Jack Riley, a Dartmouth great who felt the sting of Fred Pearson's tenacity in that famous 6-4 Yale victory. Bertagna recalled meeting Pearson for lunch at the 99 Restaurant, and that Fred arrived wearing a tie and sport coat, "not because he was coming from work, but because he was meeting someone for dinner. It just spoke of a different time and place, a different set of values."

However, Bertagna's most telling quote was his next. "When you saw Fred, despite the fact that he was older, you couldn't help but feel like you were looking at a much younger man. He had such a twinkle in his eyes."

Fred Pearson was, in my eyes, forever young, someone who embodied a "joie de vivre" that is so uncommon these days. He was truly a man's man, and I will miss him dearly. Death can go to Hell; Fred won't.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Brion,
Great memorial to a great man. - Todd