by Tyler and Paul Newman
Sometimes in life you can be so close to a situation that you focus on the everyday details, without looking at the overall picture. That was the case with my dad. Gord Newman. I knew him for all 39 years of my life up close and personal. With his passing this past week, I’ve had time to step back and reflect on the positive ways he affected many people’s lives.
Gord wasn’t big on world history or politics, probably because there was more bad than good going on in the world, and he was too positive about life to dwell on world problems. As I see it he had 3 main points of focus in his life. These were his family and friends, his work and his sports, all of which he excelled in with great determination. If he is looking down upon this chapel today, he would probably say, “get to the point, I’m busy.” So with that I’d like to tell you about the man you all know and love, Gord Newman.
Gord was a wonderful husband, who put his family first and foremost. He was always there when mom needed him, and if he wasn’t working, he was at home. He was meticulous at organizing the bills and paying them immediately, usually all over the kitchen table just before dinner. Mom never needed to worry about the finances and we thank dad for that. As a father he was always there for Paul and I and was very involved in our lives. If there was a road hockey or football game on our street, and he was home, you could guarantee he was out there playing with us and the other kids on the street. I think one of the things he liked most about mom was the fact she had 4 brothers who loved sports. If we went to see my grandparents for the weekend you could be assured of a baseball game on the farm lawn. Dad loved playing there with Paul and I and our cousins up to bat and my uncles in the field, and unfortunately for us, dad pitching. You didn’t know if you were going to get a knuckle ball, a lob or a backspin pitch. And if he got his hands on a second ball, he was sure to pitch you two balls at once when you least expected it. He was a master of the hidden ball trick, and when he motioned to pitch and you left the base to early to see he didn’t have the ball… you’d look back to see one of my uncles smiling at you from the base with the ball in his glove. We never kept score, it was just good competition and dad liked it that way.
When Paul started to play football in high school, dad was there at every game he could get to. He wasn’t just there to see Paul play but also to meet the coaches and Paul’s friends on the team. When I started playing basketball at school, he did likewise, but my team was so bad that he spent most of the games talking to our neighbour Paul Green and his teammates on our senior team. Dad rarely missed a game during my 5 years in school and spent many weekends driving teammates to tournaments and assisting the coach, and even drove my best friend Steve to the hospital during a game after I allegedly elbowed him in the face. He was also there when I was in University and with the ball teams Paul and I played on, and he wasn’t just there to see us play. He was there talking to and encouraging our teammates also. He would become a part of their lives, getting to know their parents, girlfriends and wives, with as much pride in their accomplishments as if they were his own children. Rarely do Paul and I see an old teammate that wouldn’t first ask us how dad was doing. Dad was always there for us whether we needed help finding a job, rides to games, and even when we weren’t asking for help he was always first to offer.
He was also very proud of our other endeavors, with Paul making furniture and putting down flooring and me creating designs for team logos for whoever needed them. Anytime he would show a friend his basement sports collection, he was always quick to point out that Paul had built all of the shelving, flooring and bat and ball holders, and show the baseball painting I did or the team logos I created. I think the proudest he was of me was when I brought home my wife Emanuella. He was never one to hug and kiss people, but Emanuella changed him, and if I was in the way he would move me out of the way to hug his daughter-in-law. I would jokingly reach for a hug to the usual refrain of, ‘get away, get away’. When he would bring golf balls over to our house, if I reached for them, he would say, ‘these aren’t for you, they’re for Emanuella’ and then he’d smile. I don’t know what changed, but 2 weeks ago we were out for mom’s birthday and when we left, he hugged me.
Dad was also a real joker who seemed to come home from work with a new joke each day. Some were funny and some were corny, but he loved to tell them none the less. He could also be quite the tease, telling you there was something on your shirt and then waiting for you to look down before flicking you on the nose with a ‘made you look’ grin. Paul and I fell for that many times. Out of nowhere he would say your shirt was on fire, and then start pulling on it, telling you ‘now its out. Dad loved a good handshake and badgered us to no end to shake hands. Which I went along with until one Christmas when from behind he said ‘hey Ty shake’, to which I quickly turned and shook the raw foot of the turkey we were having for dinner.
Dad was also quite a story teller about his days growing up in Windsor, and you never knew what to believe. He always said the reason he didn’t graduate high school was because he broke his arm and couldn’t pass his typing course. Then he would show us how he couldn’t straighten out his right arm, which made us wonder if it was true. He had a picture of himself running track with 2 ribbons, 1 for winning the mile race in Windsor and 1 for finishing 4th in the Western Ontario Regionals. He would tell us that he was to be in the 4th lane, so his coach told him to come in 4th, which he did, and I think we almost believed him.
The best story had to be when we were watching wrestling on TV and the villian Abdullah the Butcher was causing mayhem in the ring. Dad turned to Paul and I and said, ‘I went to school with him’. Well I just couldn’t believe that. Just last year I was in a bookstore and saw a book of the 100 Greatest Wrestlers. I had to look. I looked at the index for Abdullah and sure enough, there he was first name Larry, born in Windsor, Ontario in 1936. It was never dull in our house with dad there, and the jokes and stories just kept coming.
I don’t know how to describe Gord as a worker, other than to say that he was extremely self-motivated and supremely driven. He never asked anyone to do more than he would, the problem was that few could keep up. He worked for 34 years in the Dispenser Division of Oshawa Group, installing, servicing and selling juice and coffee machines to hotels, hospitals and restaurants all across Canada, Bahamas and Puerto Rico. He was very proud of his work because he believed in the product he was selling. It wasn’t unusual for him to get up at 4 in the morning to drive to Sudbury to work, because as he would say it was just a 1 day job. There were weeks away when he would be helping distributers in eastern and western Canada, Bahamas and Puerto Rico, mom understood this was his job and supported him while taking care of us. It wasn’t easy for her, but she knew the passion he had for his job. Gord met many people over these years, customers, juice suppliers and the trucking company owner in Florida, that he considered more as lifelong friends than as business acquaintances. There were many times when he went to watch the sons of customers and co-workers play hockey in the OHL or NHL with genuine interest not because of business. We took many vacations where we ended up visiting one or more of these business people and their families. Knowing that dad had a hard time separating work from pleasure, many of our vacations began with him saying, ‘We just have to stop and fix a machine in Niagara, London, Kingston etc… We never minded because he was doing what he loved. In 1970 dad went to Florida for a training program at the juice plant. While he was there he saw something he thought was so incredible he wanted us to experience it. It was Disneyworld. Instead of playing softball games he started umpiring games to save money to take us there. Anyone who has umpired knows it’s a thankless job, but he somehow enjoyed it choosing to talk to the players instead of arguing with them. We first went to Florida as a family in 1974 and made many trips in the years after.
Gord was such a dedicated worker that in the early 80’s when he took a week off work for an operation on his leg, administration called to say there was something wrong with his personel file. He had been working there for 18 years and he had no sick days marked off. He explained to her that he had never used any sick days. In 1998 after 34 years of service at Oshawa Group Gord retired at a party of over 100 customers, suppliers, co-workers and family in attendance. He was quite touched by the evening and received well wishes from many and pictures of customers children he knew well, and a set of Calloway golf clubs from the company. For the first time in his life I think he was speechless. And I was left speechless with the realization that with me being left handed, I could never use his clubs. After retirement he went back part-time to help them work the food trade shows that he was so well known for, and started a new part-time job at Woodlands Golf Club as a Marshall and Starter. He actually started golfing because of all of the tournaments he would be invited to through work in the 1990’s. He fell in love with the game, and his golf course of choice was anywhere near Tampa Florida, and his golf partner quite often was his long time friend Dave Fanning.
While he had many good customers over the years, his farourite was a customer that hardly ordered any product and were out of business 4 months of the year. In 1977 Gord put juice machines into the Toronto Blue Jays and visitors clubhouses. He got to know the clubhouse manager Jeff Ross quite well and formed a friendship that lasted right to the end. He also met a new friend in Blue Jay Otto Velez who loved the Hawiian punch Gord put in the machine. When Gord would go to Puerto Rico, Otto would pick him up and take him to see baseball games.
Dad was such a great baseball fan that mom became one out of necessity, because sooner or later we were going on a trip and there was going to be a game to watch when we got there. Before the Blue Jays there were trips to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Philadelphia. He loved to watch the game.
On April 7, 1977 he was there in the snow watching the very first Jays game. We went to many games after that and he went most years to watch the Jays at spring training and of course Opening Day, with either family or friends. Along the way he saw some pretty memorable games: John Candelaria’s no hitter in Pittsburgh, the first Blue Jay triple play, Dave Stewart’s no hitter in Toronto, Dave Steib’s near perfect game in Toronto and almost saw Dave Steib’s no hitter in Cleveland. That was my fault, I was starting my first full-time job on the day after the game, and dad didn’t want me to be late for my first day on the job.
In the 70’s he went to many CFL football games and Grey Cup games because 2 of his good friends from high school, Ted and Doug Collins played in the league. Doug thought so much of dad that he gave him one of his player replica Grey Cup trophies. In the 80’s and 90’s he went to numerous baseball All-Star and World Series games, again with friends and family, along with a Super Bowl, and many hockey,football and basketball games.
He was at probably the two most important Blue Jay games ever. Sort of… Game 6 of the 1992 World Series had Toronto playing in Atlanta to win the series. Dad couldn’t be there so he did the next best thing. He and Paul went down to the Skydome to watch the game on the Jumbotron. As you all know the Jays won and were World Champs. I called him the next day to talk about the excitement of the game, and he was all excited… because he had seen a high school friend of mine running on the field celebrating. The next year Game 6 was in Toronto and he was again with Paul in his familiar seat, front row down the left field line. When Joe Carter hit the home run down the leftfield line to win the game and series, I again called him the next morning to talk about the game. He said, ‘Ya the game was great but listen to this, I was razzing and joking with the leftfield line umpire all game, and when Joe hit the home run to win the game the umpire ran over to me and handed me his umpires hat’. Dad didn’t often care who won the game as much as being there to see it and talking with people.
Gord met a lot of people in baseball over the years, and I think the one that impressed him the most was Cito Gaston. They met when Cito was the Jays batting coach and their friendship continued through his time as the manager. He would always have time for Gord and would often see him in the clubhouse and call him into his office to chat. Cito even invited dad and mom to his wedding reception.
What some of you may not know is that Gord played Fastpitch Softball from a young age growing up in Windsor. When he moved to Toronto in the late 50’s he continued to play with and against some of the best players in the Toronto region including his childhood friend and top calibre pitcher Gary Nolan. He continued to play after moving to Bramalea in the late 60’s, and played till the age of 41. He was a good player who hated to strike out and rarely did. He stopped playing at this time to watch Paul and I play and help out with our teams. And on the rare occasion when our team didn’t have enough players, he got his chance to play again and he loved it. Of course we couldn’t tell mom, she’d have a fit, so it would be our little secret. Soon the truth would be out though, and she’d remind him how old he was.
He played for my team in a tournament in the mid 80’s, and had a great game. I think he got 3 hits and he would always joke with my friend and teammate Edwin that he could give him some batting tips, if he’d like.
In 1998 he again had to play for my team and got a single at the age of 60. And just last year he had to play for Paul’s team, and laid down such a great bunt, the coach wanted him to come to the next practice and show the team how to bunt. Dad once had a picture taken of him with Minnie Minoso a major leaguer who has played baseball in 7 different decades. Dad knew who Minnie was, but I’m sure Minnie didn’t know dad was right on his heels with 6 decades of fastball.
Gord loved fastball and began watching the top players in the world at his first trip to the ISC World Fastball championships in 1995. He continued to go almost every year and met many people involved in playing and organizing the tournament. 2 years ago he helped organize the tournament when it came to Kitchener/Waterloo, and was a tireless worker for the week.
Every 4 years fastball has what is called the ISF worlds which is a country vs. country tournament.
It was going to be in New Zealand in January of 2004 and he decided to go and Paul went with him. They had a great time at the tournament, meeting many people dad had only conversed with over the internet. 2 years earlier dad had helped a young player from New Zealand Shaun Foster find a team to play for in Ontario for the summer. When Shaun came to Toronto dad picked him up, showed him the sights and gave him a place to stay before taking him to his team. When dad and Paul were in New Zealand Shaun’s dad Vance took the time after the tournament was over to show them all over their country. Dad and Paul had a great trip, the one that would be his last.
Dad had many names, Gordon, Gord, Gordie, Gordo, Golden, Juiceman, Hatman and Newman which became popular at work because of Seinfeld. If dad had been the Newman character on the Seinfeld show, Jerry would have liked him, and he would have said things like: He’s too good, He’s a hand shaker, He likes people, He’ll talk to anybody, He wears his pen in the vee of his shirt, He wears hats, all the time, He likes his coffee real hot. And dad would definitely be Kramer’s buddy.
Gord was known by many who didn’t have a bad thing to say about him. We’ve known him as a devoted husband, father, relative, co-worker, supplier and friend, and he was great in all of these roles because he truly cared about all of you. He will be sadly missed but always remembered. What we do in life echoes in eternity and Gord’s echo will be long and loud. Good bye Dad, we’ll miss you.