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"VIP" 2008 Obituary


VIPOND o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-01-11 published
Milt DUNNELL, 102: Journalist
By James CHRISTIE, Page S8
The thing that always left Milt DUNNELL's co-workers and competitors shaking their heads was history. Most of them had to look up information on sport's landmark events and personalities. When Milt talked history, it was usually firsthand, eyewitness stuff.
Joe DiMaggio wasn't in a newsreel, he was in Mr. DUNNELL's notebook. So was Don Larsen's perfect game pitched for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series; Northern Dancer's Kentucky Derby win in 1964; and Muhammad Ali's Thrilla in Manila in 1975.
The long-time sports editor of the Toronto Star lived 102 years and spent 52 of them writing columns for Canada's largest distribution daily - all the way back to when the Toronto Maple Leafs were winning Stanley Cups for founder Conn Smythe.
It only figured he would chronicle history. He lived through the world's most turbulent times. The day he was born in December, 1905, the newspapers carried a story of slaughter in Moscow during the Russian Revolution, with horse-mounted dragoons riding over students and slashing them down after they'd raised a white flag. The sports page was considerably more sedate, mainly horse racing and some bizarrely disjointed notes on New Zealand footballers, the Hamilton Tigers' rugby football budget, the hiring of two new umpires and the fact that "Mrs. Fitzsimmons has deserted her pugilistic husband."
The world changed during the DUNNELL years and Mr. DUNNELL, with admirable and simple elegance, chronicled the changes in the sports corner. A young reporter, coming into the business 35 years ago at The Globe and Mail, said he was aiming to be like the paper's columnist, the witty, flashy clotheshorse Dick Beddoes. A veteran pulled him aside and counselled him: "If you read Beddoes every day, you might be entertained, but if you read Milt you'll learn something every day."
The first thing one learned from the DUNNELL style was that his influence and his big talent weren't accompanied by a big ego. He would call out athletes for substandard and indifferent performances, but Mr. DUNNELL didn't need to be the star of the show. His columns were never about himself and he eschewed using the pronoun "I."
He didn't brand himself with the fright-house wardrobe of Mr. Beddoes or the ever-present stogie of sports columnist Jim Coleman. In fact, Mr. DUNNELL never smoked or swore or drank in a business where those three vices are endemic. Those who worked for him describe him as the boss they always wanted.
"The respect was mutual. We had respect for him and he respected that we knew how to do our jobs," says The Globe's Larry MILLSON, who worked for Mr. DUNNELL in the 1970s. "With every boss since him, it's like going over a precipice, in comparison."
Mr. DUNNELL was good to colleagues despite the competitive newspaper environment. Mr. MILLSON recalled that when he crossed over from the Star to The Globe, he was dispatched to the 1976 Kentucky Derby. When he arrived he learned that The Globe's sports editor Jim VIPOND had reserved his hotel room but hadn't arranged his credentials. "I showed up at the track and had no pass, and Milt saw me there and took me to the man in charge of the press box and vouched for me. He could have just left the competition in its own mess."
It was the second kindness he'd done a Globe writer that year. At the 1976 Super Bowl in Miami, Christie Blatchford had brought a wardrobe of T-shirts and skimpy shoes, anticipating warm weather. Instead, a severe cold snap hit. Mr. DUNNELL took off his suit jacket and put it around the shivering shoulders of the opposition.
Milt DUNNELL worked until he was almost 89, finally retiring in 1994, though he'd reached retirement age 24 years earlier. He was a member of four different sports Halls of Fame and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of just about every game - and that included blackjack. Though slowed by arthritis, he spent part of his retirement at the blackjack tables at Casino Rama, befuddling dealers even as a sharp-minded centenarian.
Milton William Ryan DUNNELL was born in Saint Marys, Ontario, on December 24, 1905. He died in Toronto on January 3, 2008. He was 102. He was predeceased by his wife Dorothy PIGEON, who died in 1994. He is survived by his sons Milton Jr., of Toronto and Michael of Windsor, Ontario He also leaves three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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