There have been multiple tributes to the irreplaceable George Kimball since he died last week: Michael Gee in the Boston Herald (sorry no link – the bleeping Herald keeps crashing my browser and I’m starting to take it personally); Charlie Pierce on Only a Game; Kevin Cullen in the Boston Globe, whose column ended with this anecdote:
George lived on his own terms and died on them, giving the finger to cancer.
I last saw George a few years ago, after he was diagnosed.
He was standing outside the arrivals hall at Belfast International Airport, dragging on one of his beloved Lucky Strikes. We got talking and George noticed I kept glancing at his hand.
“Oh, these,’’ he said, holding the cigarette out. “Yeah, well, my doctor told me I should stop.’’
George drew hard again.
“So,’’ I asked, “what happened?’’
George expelled a long plume of smoke that seemed to drift out over the rolling hills of Antrim.
“I got another doctor,’’ George Kimball said.
I never met George Kimball, so I don’t have great stories like that one. But I do have this story:
About 20 years ago Kimball wrote a Boston Herald piece that opened with very detailed driving directions to The Hideout, a bar outside Dublin that prominently displayed the formerly strong right arm of Sir Dan Donnelly, the only Irish heavyweight champion in boxing history.
As the Missus and I were about to embark on a trip to Ireland, I xeroxed the Herald story and stashed it in my suitcase.
After we had taken in the Cliffs of Moher (or Less, since they were fogged in that day) and I had kissed the Blarney Stone (“coals to Newcastle” my Mom later commented), we were headed to Dublin.
“Say,” I remarked to the Missus, “maybe we could stop by the Hideout and see Sir Dan Donnelly’s formerly strong right arm hanging above the bar.”
“Maybe we could,” she replied dryly, which of course meant she’d rather have her own right arm cut off.
“Great,” I concluded, which of course meant I was willing to stand the gaff when it all went wrong.
That was our system.
So I pulled Kimball’s column out of my pocket and we soon cruised into the parking lot of the Hideout.
“I’ll wait out here,” said the Missus, until she noticed the sign on the Hideout’s wall that said Not Responsible for People or Property Left in Cars.
“Okay, I’ll come in,” she added.
Behind the bar hung the formerly strong right arm of Sir Dan Donnelly attached to a piece of cardboard with some hand-printed text about his Olympian status in Irish boxing history.
After I’d raised a pint to the legendary champion, I told the publican that I was from Boston and had come there because of a piece in the Herald which I had a copy of right here and proceeded to hand to him.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Someone just faxed that to me yesterday.”