The death of Ed Whalen (family friend, Stampede Wrestling announcer)
Three weeks after laying my mother to rest, I was in England when word came that George Harrison died.
I'm a huge Beatles fan. It hit me hard when John was shot and now I'm saddened we've lost George.
Another jab at our sense of permanency.
The times they are a-changin'.
As if 9/11 hadn't already left us all with the distinct feeling that the world would be a different kind of place, the realization that yet another cultural icon, The Beatles, is suddenly half gone reinforced a clear sense of before and after.
Harrison's death is as personal to the people in the U.K. as the loss of Ed Whalen is to Calgarians.
I was in England when I got that call, too.
When Ed spoke at my mom's funeral, with his comfortably familiar wit, he made the stunningly eloquent comment: "Helen and I told each other, 'I love you,' and neither Stu or Nomi worried about it."
And now neither Helen nor Ed is left to travel the long and winding road alone.
In that one line, Ed defined the special relationship that my family enjoyed with him for 40-odd years.
Some of us Harts got to know Ed better than others. Stu was especially close to him.
"There is nothing bad I can say about Ed Whalen," my father reflects with a tired grin, a twinkle in his misty, reflective eyes.
Of course, he then goes on to recall, "The first time I met Ed ..." and an hour later, he's still going.
Especially close to Ed was my younger brother Ross.
He was eight or nine, wide-eyed, with perhaps the greatest passion for wrestling of anyone in my entire family. Ed himself was a huge wrestling fan, which is a big part of why, in my opinion, he was the greatest wrestling announcer of all time. Ed had a down-home, genuine quality that made him appealing to people from all walks of life.
He wasn't just the voice of Stampede Wrestling -- he was the personality, the level-headed straight man who grounded all sorts of lunacy endlessly going on around him. Between them, Ross and Ed fuelled each other's love for wrestling, pure and simple and it wasn't long before Ross grew into the job of mapping out the TV shows with Ed.
Sometimes Ed would get so caught up in it that he grew angry at the bad guys and frustrated by the crooked referees. Sandy Scott drove Ed crazy. He even conked ol' Abdullah the Butcher in the head with the mic -- and it was all totally real. Ed liked it real -- what he didn't like was gratuitous violence. He quit over it more than once and came back when it was reined in a little. One time, Ed felt Abby went too far and it was quite something to watch this usually calm, cool, intelligent announcer of average stature haul off and clobber the big monster.
In that moment, there's a lot to be found about Ed's strength of character, his feisty, fiery tenacity, his strong will.
With the many deserved tributes that have been written about Ed since he was taken from us, I find myself in the unique position of having written mine a month before Ed's passing.
He called to thank me for it and said it was the nicest column that anybody ever wrote about him.
I think just the fact Ed liked it was even more of a compliment to me than Ed said my column was to him. You could just hear the sincerity in his voice -- and the humility. Not a trace of ego. Since Ed enjoyed what I wrote, I thought I'd reprise a few lines of it here since, frankly, I couldn't have said it better than myself:
Back in '78, I'd only been in the business for a few months when I locked up with Dynamite Kid. I was grateful I got to work with him and learn from him. I'll never forget Whalen's voice coming from the TV when they aired the match that Saturday afternoon, excitedly saying, "I kid you not. I have just witnessed the best wrestling match I have ever seen!" For a young, unsure guy of 20, that one statement did a lot to raise my self-confidence.
Ed is the kind of guy who means what he says and says what he means.
His compliments were not given lightly and his praise rang in my head and heart for a long, long time. As I became more successful and eventually found myself psyching up for world championship matches that millions of people would be watching live on pay-per-view, I'd tell myself to go out there and be good enough that Ed Whalen would say it was the best wrestling match he'd ever seen. Ed would be surprised to know that, I think.
He's a humble guy with a heart of gold.
Ed, you are a timeless classic. You touched and inspired so many and in that, my friend, you will always live on -- in our hearts and in our deeds. We will never be able to fill your shoes -- but we will all be better for trying.
In the meantime and in between time, that's all for now.