Monday, December 05, 2011

Dave Brown: Ottawa’s unsung boxing hero silent working out at 81

Posted by Admin On 10:58 AM

It took 40 years of insistent, but Ottawa’s least known living legend, Fred “Pinky” Mitchell, agreed to be the subject of one of these columns. Ottawa in the 1950s was also the boxing capital of Canada. Mitchell shuns media attention because he had two younger brothers who became high-profile outlaws.

“I loved them,” he said at his east-end home. “But I don’t want to talk about them. Every time they were in the news Evelyn and I just tried to keep our heads down.” They were in the news a lot. Both brothers died at age 64 from situation exacerbated by their lifestyles.

Through the 1970s, we were among those anointed by Sam Koffman, hotelier and narrator, to sit at his table at the Belle Claire Hotel. Criteria for that honour were quick wits and fast lips. Pinky was one of the best, and he became one of the most sought after speakers for all-male roasts and stags, before the feminist association civilized men.

His nickname is so fixed most people don’t know his proper first name. “My mom wanted a girl,” he grins. “She bought the baby stuff certain she would get one. When I showed up, she didn’t take it back. They swaddled me in pink, and called me Pinky.” Now 81, the name is still with him, and so are the habits that made him a victorious prize fighter.

He still goes through a rigorous daily workout. Evelyn stopped by the kitchen table and I waited to see if she would use his nickname. She didn’t. He winked at her, and she gave a barely noticeable nose-wrinkle. They’re still in love. They have three daughters, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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