Family and friends fondly remember George Kimball

 

MORE THAN 200 friends and family members remembered sports journalist and Irish Timescolumnist George Kimball during a memorial celebration in Manhattan on Wednesday night.

Twenty speakers and musicians spoke or sang at the Edison ballroom near Times Square to remember Kimball, who died from oesophageal cancer on July 6th, aged 67.

Many recalled his warm spirit, encyclopaedic knowledge of boxing, chain-smoking and seemingly super-human ability to defy doctors’ estimates of his life expectancy.

Recalling the huge deluge of George Kimball stories that have been sent to his family since his death, his mother, Sue, cautioned that “40 per cent of e-mails coming forward are not to be trusted, but George wouldn’t mind, he just sort of encouraged that”.

Of his 25-year career as a sports journalist for the Boston Herald, she remembered how he once wrote about a pitcher for the Red Sox baseball team who was allegedly using performance- enhancing drugs.

The next day, the man flung a bread roll at George as he passed through the Red Sox clubhouse. Of the incident, Kimball wrote: “Even my five-year-old son doesn’t throw bread.”

“That’s my favourite line,” his mother said. “We love you and we miss you, George.”

Writer and journalist Pete Hamill recalled Kimball’s skill for creating his own legend. He recalled that someone had once written graffiti in the women’s toilets of the Lion’s Head pub in New York, proclaiming Kimball’s sexual prowess.

“It took us an hour and a half to discover that George wrote it,” he said, to applause from the Kimball family and close friends.

Hamill recalled that in the Sixties, “hip” meant “having knowledge” and Kimball was one of the hippest people you could meet. “He was so smart, you were smarter at the end of talking to him,” he said.

Looking around the room, Hamill said that his friend would have approved of the Edison ballroom for his memorial because it was dark with soft beams of light.

“He would have loved the pools of light in the darkness, the sense that something else is going on, that another script is going on somehow,” Hamill added.

Actor Arlen Dean Snyder read a lengthy extract from one of Kimball’s Irish Timesboxing columns and from a poem Kimball wrote about getting slapped on the head by Muhammad Ali at a hotel buffet.

The audience also watched a slide show of Kimball’s life, including several photographs of him with boxing legends Mike Tyson and George Foreman.

Folk singer Tom Paxton sang The Parting Glassand performed an instrumental version of Will Ye Go Lassie Gowith fellow musician David Amram, as a tribute to Kimball’s close association with Ireland.

Amram said he thought Kimball was the “quintessential Greenwich Villager and quintessential New Yorker” until he visited Lawrence, Kansas, and Cork, Ireland – cities that also considered Kimball among their own.

Family friend Benn Schulberg said he was first struck by Kimball’s enormous stature “like a normal man who had swallowed a refrigerator”. Over time he came to appreciate Kimball’s warmth and great intelligence.

He recalled sharing a hotel room with him when he was ill and wearing a feeding tube. Kimball still smoked so many cigarettes that he could not be seen and would appear from the cloud of smoke ever so often to use the bathroom.

Kimball’s brother Peter recalled being initially cautious of George’s many gregarious and eccentric friends, retelling a quote from the Sufi poet Rumi: “Don’t make friends with the elephant keeper, you don’t have room for elephants.”

He finished with a final salute: “To George – and to all the elephants in the room.”