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ICYMI: The Tributes to Torrington Legend Owen Canfield. Peter Wallace and Rick Wilson with their takes.

POSTED March 14, 2020
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Peter Wallace

Torrington Register Citizen

Owen and I had lunch together every week for a couple of years when he was back to writing two columns for the Register Citizen and I was back to three sports stories a week for the same paper.

Mondays at Scarpelli’s and a few other places. We did it because we liked each other – a weekly highlight for a couple of old guys with lots to share about reminiscences – he with his rise through the Register Citizen and Hartford Courant and back to the Register Citizen, me in a public relations career that took me through corporate life and a handful of PR firms before landing at the Register Citizen for what turns out to be a second career of sorts.

We had families to talk about, love lives to share, service time – he in the Air Force, me in the Army.

And we had fun. We’d kid each other, then team up to do our best to charm a couple of our steady waitresses at Scarpelli’s – “It’s just that I’m so darn good looking for my age,” he laughed to the first one.

That one invited us to her wedding. We saw the next one – a smart beautiful young lady who was the restaurant manager at the time – off to her new career in something else.

“They’re my guys,” she once explained to another waitress when she took over our booth from her station, making both of us proud and more deeply in love.

We’d occasionally get stop-by visitors at our booth – one of Owen’s charming classmates was almost a regular and, courtly gentleman that he was, Owen always picked up her tab after she’d settled into her own booth, thereby encouraging her obvious crush on him.

Endless ribbing about it from me.

We’d dive into religion/spirituality, “colossal” mistakes each of us made over the years – “I once mis-spelled a person’s name, then, in the correction, I mis-spelled it again,” Owen confessed among a string of similarly mortifying incidents from me.

Sports, of course, but not as much or fan based as you might think from a couple of guys who made a living at it. More the personalities – both of us local, of course, him a lifetime Torrington community fan, me a dedicated transplant, but also from his sports travels with the Courant that filled so many of his great local columns.

Pete Rose was a jerk before he ever got caught up in gambling, for instance. Owen knew that from personal experience and you had to be a real jerk to be a jerk to Owen Canfield, just because anyone with two eyes, two ears and a heart warmed up to Owen Canfield instantly.

The only problem I had at his wake – coming into the funeral home just as Jim Calhoun was leaving – finally getting to meet most of his and his beloved Ethel’s 10 kids – was that funeral people can’t seem to preserve a big grin like the one Owen so often wore as a kind of inadvertent trademark.

In a field full of lots of cherished friendly acquaintances, both of us confessed to having just a handful of real friends.

Owen Canfield was one of mine and I miss him.

Rick Wilson-Litchfield County Sports

It wasn’t your typical wake.  Not to diminish the sense of loss and tears that were real and present, but there were smiles and more than a twinkle in the eye that seemed to dominate. There was an overwhelming sense of “Man, I am glad I was part of this life.”

 I think Owen Canfield would have enjoyed his wake. He would have enjoyed the idea that so many enjoyed him. He would have been touched by those he touched so often for so long.  He would have enjoyed the huge strain of uplifting atmosphere.

In a wonderful sports writing career that spanned nearly 60 years and included Connecticut Sportswriter of the Year honors seven times, Owen came as close to perfecting the connection between games and events with people as anyone that has picked up a pen of plucked away at a typewriter or keyboard.

He always understood that the tie that binds was the people that created the moments and events. You could always find the touchdowns, base hits, winning baskets and winding putts in his articles. But it is not what you remembered; it was the people behind all the statistics that Owen brought to life.

You see Owen’s face on the cover of this magazine and other tributes inside. Part of it is because Owen was one of ours. Torrington guy from start to finish, he was born here, went to school here, lived here all his life and raised his voluminous family of 10 children here.  Owen got his early writing start here at the Torrington Register.  And Owen never forgot his roots.

Even as he was rising to national renown at the Hartford Courant, he never let the old hometown drift from his eyesight.  He read his hometown newspaper, helped young reporters, and cultivated lifelong relationships.

 Owen was one of ours. He never let go of Torrington and Torrington never let go of him.

But Owen’s presence here is an intertwining of geography and people.  The thoughts in this magazine are from the people who Owen thrived on. He was always more than the game and they felt that. He was about them and they knew that.

Maybe nobody caught Owen’s essence more eloquently after his death in late November than his colleague at the Courant, Lori Riley. I encourage you to find her column online and read it. You will find both a tear and smile. It is superb. If you didn’t know Owen you will. If you knew Owen, luxuriate in the expression about a special guy.

Riley talks of the beautiful notes he would send her, sometimes just to say hi, offer an uplifting thought or condolences on the death of her mother and close friend. They hadn’t worked together in a while but Riley knew she was always in his thoughts.

Another giant of the sports writing community, Jeff Jacobs of Hearst Media and formerly of the Courant, will tell you of Owen’s assistance to an upcoming writer and one who replaced Owen at the Courant as the columnist.  He once again brings attention to Owen’s flair for helping people, his sense of humor and optimism.  I urge to read his thoughts.

Lori and Jeff knew Owen a lot better than I did but I was fortunate to cross bases with him through the years. I started with the Register and Owen always paid attention to us. He would send us notes of appreciation for much of our work.

Owen and I found ourselves together at the Volvo Tennis Tournament in the mid-1990s. He was not a tennis expert and asked me a few questions and we had a wonderful afternoon watching the matches.

When we began forming Litchfield County Sports, one of the first people we asked for advice was Owen. Tim Gaffney, I and Patrick Tiscia met him for lunch in Torrington. Owen gave us some tips and it was two hours of special time. He ended up writing a column in the Courant on our endeavor and you knew he wanted us to succeed. It was more than a story for Owen; it was about people trying to do something different.

I was struck by a couple of comments from Jeff Jacobs’ column on Owen. Jacobs called Owen a great writer by as former Courant sportswriter Mike Arace said, “Cultivating people.”  And this from former Courant Sports Editor Jeff Otterbein, “You could not walk away from one of (Owen’s) columns without feeling good, without feeling a range of emotions.”

That is Owen’s greatness. He knew life and his profession was about people. It was the creators that were the story not always the creations.

 “My dad wasn’t Red Smith but always said he wrote for his readers,” his son Owen told Riley.

Owen talked about covering Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters in 1986, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in the 1978 World Series in his final column in March.  All seminal, historic sports moments. But it is the last line that catches you – “and a million other things, All-Important to someone.”

His treasure and thus ours. He loved people and he knew nothing was too small. Games, moments and events? They had their place but often not first place and certainly not the only place.  So many of his stories, the timeless Christmas stories of his family and beloved wife Ethel and other human-interest pieces he reveled in telling were special slices of life that we could all relate to.

The multitudes walking around Owen’s wake, sharing stories with family friends knew this. It wasn’t just about saying good-bye to a great writer. It was about saying good-bye and thanks to a great guy.

Owen always knew that.  He loved the sports world but he really loved that people that created it. It showed and we benefitted.

For more from Timothy W. Gaffney click here